LONG BEACH — The local prep sports year concluded Friday, and virtually no one expected that the Cate baseball team would be the last Santa Barbara team standing.
The seventh-seeded Rams had stampeded through the Division VII playoffs, but they lost their footing early on in the championship game — a 12-2 defeat at the hands of top-ranked Cornerstone Christian down at historic Blair Field in Long Beach. It was their second loss of the season, with both coming at the hands of the Eagles.
Michael McMahon and the other seniors finally turned in their jerseys, nearly two weeks after being handed their diplomas.
“I’m bummed. I wish I could keep playing. I didn’t want it to stop but I knew today would be the last day no matter what and I had to come to terms with it,” said McMahon, who is expected to be Cate’s first-ever two-time All-CIF selection in football and baseball.
What may have been hard for many of the Rams to come to terms with was a bizarre play in the bottom of the second inning that sent them back out onto the field in disbelief. With the bases loaded and two outs, Cornerstone’s Aaron Roth hit one on the screws and sent it deep to left field. The ball appeared to have short-hopped off the wall before Efren Ruiz grabbed it and threw to Jackson Mauze at third base. Mauze tagged out Roth trying to stretch out a triple, ending the inning with three runs driven in on the hit.
“The umpire said it went over, but he had no explanation as to how it came back. He couldn’t give me an answer to that,” said Cate coach Ben Soto.
Sure, it only cost the Rams one extra run, but having to come back out on the field already down 7-0 is enough to flatten anybody. Not so, according to catcher Nathan Vice.
“We’re happy to be out here and be playing baseball. You can get down after a bad call, but what matters is you’re still playing seven innings of baseball,” said the senior, headed to Lewis and Clark next year.
Cate got two back in the top of the fourth, when John Warren hit the inning’s first pitch for a deep double to left field. Mauze followed with a walk, and he and Warren advanced a base on an overthrow by the catcher soon after. George Lou hit a grounder to the shortstop to get in one run, and Vice followed with an RBI single to make it 7-2. A bunt was popped up on the next play, however, and Vice was doubled up to end the inning.
The Rams were never able to get any momentum back, and the Eagles continued to run the bases aggressively, adding two runs in the fifth and three in the sixth.
“It wasn’t a good ending, but the sun’s gonna shine tomorrow,” said Soto. “They’re 21-0 for a reason. We knew they were good and it just wasn’t our day today.”
The Eagles finished as the only undefeated high school team in the state.
There was no end-of-season banquet for the Rams (19-2), as many of the players would have flown home weeks ago if not for the magical postseason run. Some of them even hopped on planes back to Saudi Arabia, where their parents work in the oil industry, just hours after the game.
Thus, a mini-banquet was held as they stuffed their jerseys into the laundry bag for the last time. Warren was named the MVP, McMahon was given the Coach’s Award and Vice was honored as the team’s Most Improved Player.
“If you told me at the beginning of the season that we’d be in the finals I wouldn’t have believed it,” said McMahon. “It feels good. Even right now, it feels good.”
Soto didn’t get an award, but the sentiments of his players said it all.
“We’ve got a couple of kids on the team who call him ‘Dad’ and that’s what he is to us,” said Vice. “He always supports us. If we’re in trouble he tells us to call him and we’ll have a pizza and watch some horrible movie like ‘Gorillas in the Mist’.”
This season’s movie, however, was anything but horrible.
CORNERSTONE CHRISTIAN 12, CATE 2
Cate…000 200 0 — 2 3 3
Cornerstone Christian…250 023 X — 12 9 2
JWarren, McMahon (4) and Vice; NRoth, ARoth (5) and Stover.
2B — C: JWarren
3B — CC: Fitzgerald
HR — CC: ARoth (2nd inn., bases loaded).