Nearly three decades since their last title, the Santa Ana Dons are state champions. By steamrolling through the competition, they captured their fourth championship in school history.
Despite being labeled underdogs, the Dons won three consecutive games. They outscored their opponents by 23 runs at the California Community College Athletic Association State Championship Series in Folsom, Calif., held over the Memorial Day weekend.
The four-team championship series featured two colleges from northern and two from southern California.
In their first game, Santa Ana faced hometown (1) Folsom for the first series win. It was SAC’s only close contest of the weekend.
The game played for nearly five and a half hours, lasting until almost midnight.
“I was excited [that] we didn’t need to get up at 8 a.m. to hit early in the morning. I didn’t get to go to sleep until after two [a.m.],” said head coach Tom Nilles.
Santa Ana Freshman Pitcher Hauze Fragozo took the mound, allowing one earned run over seven innings to Folsom’s Logan Sutter, the Big 8 player of the year.
It was a tense game, with four ties and five lead changes.
“This weekend has been a roller coaster. To the bottom level of exhaustion trying to get through that first game, then from there, it’s been a blast. Roller coasters are fun,” said outfielder Christian Thompson.
Santa Ana scored four runs in the top of the 13th inning to take a 7-3 lead but immediately lost their lead in the bottom of the inning.
Tired and desperate for a spark to happen, the dugout cried out in an effort to encourage their hitters.
At around 11 p.m. Ryann Stock connected with a ball and hit a solo home run over the left field fence, revitalizing their depleted dugout.
Pitcher Rocco Gurrola fed off the revamped energy, as he closed out the 15th without any damage, securing an 8-7 victory for the Dons.
Up next for Santa Ana was (1) Saddleback, an opponent they had previously lost a series to in conference play. But that wouldn’t matter.
In the bottom of the second, SAC tacked on three runs on singles from Marc Schavone, Christian Thompson, and Matthew Dobson.
Jaxton Andeel pitched 4-⅓ innings, giving up two runs off a home run in the first.
Once again, the Dons trusted Gurrola in relief. He went on to close out the rest of the game, allowing two runs through the final 4-⅔ innings.
In the eighth inning, the Dons’ offense flexed the power that carried them through the playoffs. With a 9-4 lead, Mikey Rocha smashed a grand slam off the scoreboard in left-center.
Rocha filled in at shortstop earlier in the season after starter Thomas Williams broke his arm in their fourth conference game.
“Everyone knows, we were 13-10, we weren’t sure where we were gonna head when we lost Williams, we didn’t have a guy behind him that could do it every day, and Rocha stepped it up,” said Nilles.
The grand slam was the final blow the Dons needed to ice the game, as they won 13-4.
Gurrola secured his second win in the State Championship Series.
One win stood between them and the end of the 27-year drought.SAC scored nine runs in the first two innings.
Jimmy De Anda hit a three RBI triple in the first inning. Mario Tostado would get three RBIs of his own with a towering homer down the left-field line in the second.
The Bobcats clawed back by scoring five runs, two in the second and three in the third, but were overwhelmed by the Dons’ offensive barrage.
Up 13-8 in the sixth, the Dons scored seven more runs. Rocha hit his second home run of the series, this time a three-run homer.
With full command and a 21-8 lead, the Dons sent in their closer Joey Iglesias.
Iglesias got two outs in the ninth and needed one more to secure the State Championship. His next pitch resulted in a popup to center field, in which Pelc got under and made the catch.
Though the moment was not under a lens of intensity, it was special nonetheless.
“We came out here and kicked some butt. We knew we were the best team coming in here,” said pitcher C.J. Brown. “We stayed confident and faithful that we were going to come out here and win some games.”
With Gatorade jugs in their arms, the Dons dugout sprinted to celebrate with Iglesias. A dogpile formed, with Gatorade raining over them as the jugs flung in the air.
“It’s amazing man, I’m truly blessed to be in this spot. This team was so incredible to be around, they were a lot of fun,” said Nilles.
Thompson won the tournament’s most valuable player after going 10 for 16 with four RBI throughout the three games. Thompson also went five for five in the finale.
“Winning MVP, I couldn’t ask for any better way to go out. [The] season was slow for me starting, like a roller coaster, then it just went off,” said Thompson.
Thompson also scored seven runs throughout the two days. He was one of the most animated players on the team.
“He lost that smile for a while and [now] that smile’s back. I attribute that to the Dons and the coaching staff,” said Rita Thompson, mother of Christian Thompson.