Dons battle back, beat Yucaipa to advance to quarterfinals

Santa Barbara catcher Colin Eaton tags a Yucaipa baserunner sliding into home plate during CIF Division 2 playoff game. (Photo by Jeanise Eaton)

Santa Barbara wanted this game more than any game this season.

Playing Yucaipa, the team that knocked them out in the CIF quarterfinals last year, the Dons were too amped at the start and fell behind 4-0 after two innings.

But this senior-laden group battled back and rallied for  a 7-5 second-round victory on the road.

Santa Barbara (22-6) will next face Harvard Westlake in a quarterfinal game on Friday at Eddie Mathews Field. Harvard Westlake beat Arroyo Grande 1-0 on a no-hitter.

The Dons put themselves in a difficult situation at Yucaipa, committing two first-inning errors with two outs, which resulted in three runs

Cam Gniadek of the Dons comes racing home as Yucaipa's catcher snares an errant throw. (Photo by Jeanise Eaton)

Yucaipa added a fourth run in the second inning on a sacrifice fly.

“The first two innings were as ugly as can be for us, but we never gavve up,” said assistant coach Mike Cooney. “It was reminiscent of last year (a 3-0 loss). The difference was  we were  overmatched by real good pitcher last year (Taijuan Walker, a first-round pick of the Seattle Mariners). They had good pitcher this year, but we got to him. He was out of there by the end of the third inning.”

Santa Barbara rallied with five runs in the third, all coming two outs. Colin Eaton led off with a single, and was brought home for the first run on a RBI-single by Spencer Fraker.  Collin Dewell and Kees t’Sas followed with singles  to load the bases. Pepe Gil cleared the bases with a three-run double to tie the score at 4-4. Lucas Benenati put the Dons in the lead with a double to score Gil.

“It was infectious hitting,” Cooney said of the third-inning eruption. “That kind of got us up at the level  where we needed to be.”

Santa Barbara padded its lead to 7-4. In the fifth Danny Zandona squeezed home Gil, who led off the inning with a double and went to third on a wild pitch. In the sixth, Cam Gniadek tripled and scored on a groundball by  Dewell.

“Overall, we showed a lot of heart,” said Cooney. “It was not our most artistic win, but it was a positive win for us.”

There was plenty of drama for the Dons in the seventh. Danny Zandona relieved starter t’Sas and Yucaipa’s first two hitters reached base on hard-hit singles. The next batter flew out to the fence and Zandona got a strikeout after a 10-pitch at-bat.

The drama continued as the Dons dropped popup in foul ground on the first base side, keeping Yucaipa alive. But Zandona, like he’s done all season, came through in the clutch, inducing the hitter to bounce out to Lucas Benenati at shortstop to end the game.

t’Sas, making only his third start of the season, picked up the win.  He allowed seven hits while striking out two. Zandona earned the save.

Fraker finished 2-4 at the plate with one RBI.

Santa Barbara 7 Yucaipa 5

Santa Barbara…005 011 0 — 7 9 3
Yucaipa..310 000 0 — 5 9 0
t’Sas, Zandona (6) and Eaton; Lewis, Sapt (3) and Sandberg. W- t’Sas (2-1) L-Lewis
2B—SB: Gil (2). Benenati, Y: Davidson. 3B—SB: Gniadek