Dons upset top-ranked Royal, headed to title game

Rankings, shmankings — they’re just a number.

Santa Barbara High took down the No. 1 baseball team in Division I at Santa Maria’s Elks Field on Thursday, defeating Royal 7-3. The Highlanders (13-3) were rated third in the Southland in the latest L.A. Times poll.

The win puts Santa Barbara (11-1) in Friday’s championship game of the Righetti Tournament, where it will play either Righetti or Deer Valley for the title.

“The coaches were emphasizing that we beat as good a team as there is in Southern California because we did all of the little things right,” said assistant coach Mike Cooney. “There was a quiet confidence, and there weren’t any loud yelps or jumping up and down at the end.”

A leadoff triple by Cameron Gniadek and another three-bagger by Joey Gonzales were part of a three-run bottom of the first, which set the tone for the Dons. Pepe Gil, who had seven RBIs over two wins on Wednesday, hit a key two-run double in the fifth that scored the final two runs of the game.

Lefty Collin Dewell got the start and pitched five innings of what Cooney called “a gutty effort,” giving up six hits and all three runs.

“This was a very strong hitting team. They were all .400-hitters and he was keeping them off-balance with change-ups and breaking balls,” said Cooney, noting that Royal stranded eight runners with Dewell on the hill. “When the game was on the line, he was able to get the ball over and get them out.”

Senior captain Gavin Feuer relieved Dewell and pitched two scoreless innings to finish the game off. It was his first appearance of the season as he continues to deal with a nagging elbow injury.

“He really wasn’t ready to pitch at the start of the season, but he’s built up his arm strength over the past month. I’d say he’s about 80-percent,” said Cooney, adding that Feuer’s comeback will be slow and monitored closely.


Royal.. 021 000 0 — 3  10  2

Santa Barbara…311 020 x — 7  9  0

Ekstrand, Cerda (4), Leyda (5), Rapp (6) and Tinkham. Dewell, Feuer (6) and Eaton.

2B — R: Tinkham, Buckel. SB: Gonzales, Gil, Below. 3B — SB: Gniadek, Gonzales, t’Sas.