James De La O came out a bit late for the Estancia High baseball team this spring, through no fault of his own.
The Eagles boys’ basketball team advanced to the CIF quarterfinals, so he stayed in that sport until the run ended. When the junior finally made it to the diamond, he struggled a bit early.
“It clicked at the beginning of league, and we moved him up to the four spot [in the batting order]Estancia baseball coach Nate Goellrich said. “That was our plan all along, and he came through time and time again for us in key situations. You just can’t say enough about him.”
He did it enough to be record setting. De La O set the Estancia baseball single-season mark in runs batted in, with 35 of them headed into Saturday’s CIF Southern Section Division 6 title game.
The 36th RBI was probably the most special.
De La O turned into De La Oh! in extra innings.
His double down the left-field line in the top of the 11th inning scored Trevor Scott, and De La O then closed it down on the mound in the bottom of the frame.
Estancia earned a dramatic 2-1 victory over Anaheim at Cal State Fullerton for the first CIF title in program history.
“The turnaround we made from seven wins last year to this moment right here is a testament to the players,” Goellrich said. “It’s a testament to our seniors for buying into the change in the program. I just can’t say enough about the guys, man. They battled Tuesday in a 10-inning thriller, and today was just amazing to come through in those moments for us.”
no. 2-seeded Estancia (28-5) ended the Division 6 final in anticlimactic fashion against No. 4 Anaheim (21-8). The Colonists had runners on first and second with one out in the bottom of the 11th, when Jillian Albayati hit a fly ball to center field.
The Anaheim runner tagged early from second base, and Estancia successfully appealed to end the game.
“Our whole dugout yelled it,” Goellrich said. “It wasn’t even close. It’s unfortunate that’s the way the game ended, but to me, it wasn’t even a question. The way the umpire stood there, we knew he knew as well.”
Much of the marathon game was a pitching duel between Estancia sophomore Andrew Mits and Albayati, a senior believed to be the first girl to appear in a CIF baseball championship game. She did much more than just appear, pitching nine innings and holding the Eagles to a single run.
“I think I set a good example,” she said after the game. “I hope I inspire others to really go out there. It’s possible.”
Estancia, the designated visiting team, still struck first in the top of the fifth. With one out, John Uchytil drew a full-count walk. After provided was hit by a pitch, Eagles senior Jack Moyer hit a single to center to score the run.
Orange League champion Anaheim responded in the bottom of the frame. Jesus Mejia walked leading off the inning and was brought home on a one-out single by Albayati.
The Colonists also got the leadoff batter on base in the sixth, seventh, eighth and 11th innings. But each time, Estancia got out unscathed.
In five CIF playoff games, the Eagles allowed just three total runs.
Provided pitched 6 1/3 innings Saturday before reaching his 110-pitch limit, and Scott allowed no hits in three shutout relief innings.
De La O (3-0) came in to pitch with one out in the bottom of the 10th, his first appearance on the mound in nearly a month due to the dominance of Mits and Scott. Anaheim loaded the bases on a walk, single and hit by pitch, but De La O got a pair of fly ball outs to left to get out of the jam.
In the top of the 11th, Scott hit a one-out a single to left off Anaheim reliever Aaron Rojas, before De La O came through again.
“It was a 3-and-1 count and I knew it was going to be a fastball in the zone for a strike,” De La O said. “It was just ‘turn and burn,’ you know what I’m saying? Trevor put on the wheels and scored from first.”
Jack Moyer, Scott, Cole Lefebvre and Andrew Coyotzi all had a pair of hits for Estancia, and Miles Moyer added a hit.
Jack Moyer said the progress has been unbelievable for Estancia, which has now won 10 straight games.
Winning the program’s first CIF championship as a senior is a moment he won’t soon forget. Prior to this year, the baseball team had never advanced past the quarterfinals.
“We worked our butts off all year, working for this moment,” Moyer said. “I’m kind of speechless still. It’s crazy … I’ve never been with a team that plays this well together.”
Estancia will next compete in the CIF State Southern California Regionals, which begin with games on May 31.
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