Santa Barbara’s Comeback Kids
Three High School Teams Make Miraculous, Late-Inning Wins
It was Yogi Berra Week on Santa Barbara diamonds. “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” baseball’s most famous quipster said, and three hometown high school teams took those words to heart on an unforgettable Tuesday, May 22.
- The Dos Pueblos Chargers, up against nationally ranked Huntington Beach in a CIF Southern Section Division 1 baseball playoff, were losing 5-0 in the bottom of the seventh inning. It’s over, right? Wrong. After a game-tying grand-slam home run by Evan Kling, the Chargers won 6-5 in the eighth on Charlie Cuykendall’s RBI single.
- The Bishop Diego Cardinals were stung by a three-run homer in the top of the seventh that put Savanna ahead 4-3 in the Division 6 playoffs. But this one was not over until Bishop came back in the bottom of the seventh and won on Jake Koeper’s single, 5-4.
- In the Division 4 softball playoffs, the San Marcos Royals trailed Chaffey 7-3 with two out in the bottom of the seventh. Game over? Nope. The Royals rallied to send the game into extra innings, and Megan Cunnison’s bases-loaded single in the eighth ended it, 8-7.
San Marcos continued its quest for a championship Thursday, defeating San Dimas 5-2 in a quarterfinal game. The Royals, who were runners-up in last year’s softball championship, were set to face Royal High in the semifinals Tuesday.
NO SWEAT: San Marcos carried a 5-0 lead over San Dimas into the last inning of the softball game, but the Royals’ fans began to squirm when a double, a walk, and a single by the visitors made it 5-1. Could there be a swing in comeback fortunes? Coach Jeff Swann strolled to the mound to talk things over.
“We had to get three outs,” Swann said. “Just keep it simple. One play at a time.”
Senior pitcher Aliyah “A.J.” Huerta Leipner blithely proceeded to induce three infield ground-outs — one of which produced a harmless run — to extinguish the rally.
“A.J. has a great level of maturity,” Swann said. “She keeps it light and loose.”
The southpaw had reason to pitch with confidence knowing that the defense had her back. Outfielders Claire Early, Maddy Leung, and Kyla Robbins tracked down several hard-hit balls.
SEVENTH HEAVEN: Dos Pueblos coach George Hedricks was not surprised by his team’s amazing comeback against Huntington Beach. “I tell them you play for seven innings, you play to the last out,” he said. “You can’t back off up by five, you can’t give up down by five. We’ve all seen it [an improbable rally]. We’ve all read about it. Now we’re part of it.”
Although the Chargers were shut out for six innings by a premier pitching staff, Hedricks said, “I see our hitting in practice every day. Our offensive numbers are ridiculous.” Kling, one of their hottest hitters, came up at the right time with the sacks full in the seventh. “Evan is strong, with quick hands,” Hedricks said. “He got a good pitch to elevate.”
Dos Pueblos was elevated to Division 1 after proving itself in Division 2 — an appearance in the semifinals two years ago — but the Chargers never got a mention in this year’s CIF’s top-10 poll despite going 23-3 in the regular season. “We’re too far north to get any respect,” Hedricks said. “People underestimate us.” At the same time, he respects the challenge of competing in the top division. “It’s mind-blowing,” he said. “Everybody’s going to be good. But we’re not afraid of it. We’re going to embrace it.”
Hedricks is a sheriff’s deputy who has been the Dos Pueblos resource officer for six years. He coached the DP pitchers before taking over as head coach three years ago. Senior starters Isaac Coffey and Dylan Kelley, along with junior relief specialist Nico Martinez, have given the Chargers a strong rotation.
Nick Katzenstein, Hedrick’s predecessor and a former Dos Pueblos player, is now coaching at Bishop Diego. He was nurtured as a player in by the late Chargers coach Scott O’Leary, whose name adorns the DP ballpark. “He was a special guy who taught you to always do the right thing when no one was looking,” Katzenstein said. “I wish I had the opportunity to know him as an adult.”
At Bishop, Katzenstein has the requisite pitching trio — Will Goodwin, Gabe Arteaga, and Hamilton Finefrock — for success in the postseason. “They’re competitive on the mound,” he said. “They throw strikes.”
BACK ON HIS FEET: Drew Daly lay unconscious on Cabrillo Boulevard early one morning in December 2016, the victim of a hit-and-run driver. There will no cars for him to worry about this Sunday, June 3, when he runs in the State Street Mile. “I read about it on Facebook and thought, ‘Yeah, that sounds like fun,’” he said. An SBCC student at the time of his accident, he suffered several broken bones and a brain injury. Santa Barbara police tracked down the driver, who was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison. Daly, 24, now attends Cal State Northridge. He said he’s “like 70 percent” recovered from his injuries, but the mile does not intimidate him: “After all, I lasted four hours on Cabrillo.”
HOT TIPS: The Phil Womble Ethics in Sports Scholarship will benefit from tips and bar sales from 5-8 p.m. today (Thursday, May 31) at the Red Piano, 519 State Street. Womble, a staunch fan of Santa Barbara sports while he persevered past his 80th birthday with cerebral palsy, founded the Ethics in Sports Awards presented by the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table. The organization will enhance his legacy with the annual $2,500 scholarship starting next year.