Dons can’t keep pace with Diablos, fall in semifinals

MISSION VIEJO — They hit the ball hard. They hit it over the fence and into the gaps to score runs.

They made spectacular defensive plays in the field. And, they battled toe-to-toe with a strong opponent on the road.

But in the end, it wasn’t enough for the fourth-seeded Santa Barbara Dons. They couldn’t keep pace with a slugging Mission Viejo team and fell 11-7 in the CIF Division 2 semifinals at the Diablos’ cozy ballpark on Tuesday.

Mission Viejo will play Etiwanda, an upset winner over second-seeded Arcadia, in the Division 2 championship game on Thursday at Dodger Stadium.

It was a heart-breaking defeat for the senior-laden Dons (23-7), a talented, tight-knit unit that coach Fred Warrecker called one his top-three teams in his long career at the helm.

“It’s been awesome,” said an emotional Collin Dewell about playing with his teammates for four years at Santa Barbara. “I love those guys. They’re brothers.”

Santa Barbara knew what it was up against in Mission Viejo, the preseason No. 1-ranked team in Orange County and in the Southland. It lost to the Diablos 11-6 in early April at the Anaheim Lions Tournament.

In that game, Mission Viejo capitalized on a couple of errors and scored six runs early in the game.

In the semifinal, the Diablos took advantage of a couple of balk calls against starting pitcher Kees t’Sas and scored two runs in the first inning and five in the third to break the game open with a 7-3 lead. The big blows in the third were a two-run opposite field double by No. 5 hitter Parker Anderson followed by a two-run homer to left by designated hitter Jake Kuluris that chased t’Sas.

Santa Barbara kept battling and cut the deficit to 7-5 in the fourth on a mammoth two-run homer by Cam Gniadek.

“They’re a very good baseball team,” Mission Viejo coach Chris Ashbach said of the Dons. “We’re very aware what they can do. We knew we were going to be in a dogfight. I didn’t know we’d have to score 11, at the same time we knew they’d come at us and swing the bat.”

“We battled,” Warrecker said. “We had a couple of things go wrong for us. I’m saying we would have won the game, but we get two balk calls in the first two innings that lead to two runs for them. We score one run, but the guy behind the plate disallows it because a guy in the dugout says he missed (the bag).”

“We’re a strong team,” Gniadek said. “We knew they were going to come at us with a lot of speed and a lot of small ball. They did a good job. They played a good game. We gave it all we got. They played better. That’s just how it works.”

Mission Viejo pulled senior starter Dallas Draviczki for junior Anthony Shew and he shut the Dons down, retiring nine in a row, albeit a couple of balls were caught at the fence.

They got to him in the seventh. Spencer Fraker, who went 3-for-4, doubled to right and Collin Dewell followed with a RBI double into the gap in left center. Dewell moved to third on a ground out and scored on a flyball by Pepe Gil.

That turned out to be the final run of the season.

The Dons came out swinging and scored a run off Draviczki in the first inning. With one out, Fraker singled to right and scored on triple to left by the Arizona-bound Dewell, who went 2-for-4 with two RBIs.

Mission Viejo (22-13) came right back against t’Sas. Leadoff hitter and Cal State Fullerton-bound Austin Saenz singled and stole second, second hitter Boog Powell walked, and both runners moved up on a sacrifice by Cal State Northridge recruit Ryan Raskowsky. t’Sas was then called for a balk, allowing Saenz to come home for the tying run. San Diego State-bound Ryan Muno followed with a single to score Powell for a 2-1 Diablos’ lead.

“They are a good executing team,” Warrecker said of the Diablos. “They really put you to the test.”

Santa Barbara answered with a run in the second, but it blew an opportunity to open up a lead. Lucas Benenati reached based on a fielder’s choice and moved to third on a single by Colin Eaton. With Nick Below at the plate, the Dons tried a double steal, but Benenati missed the sign and was tagged out by Mission Viejo catcher Sean Miller.

Below drew a walk to keep the inning alive and Gniadek followed with single up the middle, scoring Eaton to tie the score at 2-2. Fraker singled to left and Below, running from second base, was waved home. The Mission Viejo dugout, however, alerted the players on the field that Below missed touching the bag. Draviczki threw the ball to third and the umpire called him out, nullifying the go-ahead run.

t’Sas got out of the second without a run scoring, thanks to a brilliant defensive play by Cal Poly-bound Danny Zandona at third base. With runners at first and second and two out, Saenz hit a hard bouncer down the line. Zandona dived, gloved the ball and stepped on the bag to end the inning.

The Dons continued to hit Draviczki’s pitches and took a 3-2 lead in the third on a single by Gil, a walk to Zandona and a RBI single to left by Benenati.

Then came the disastrous third for Santa Barbara. Mission Viejo sent 10 batters to the plate in the inning. That paved the way for a trip to Dodger Stadium for the Diablos and sent the Dons home.

“We scored seven runs and seven runs usually wins a game,” Zandona said. “But Mission Viejo rips the ball, they hit the ball well. I think they’re definitely going to win it all.”

Santa Barbara…111 200 2 — 7 11 1
Mission Viejo…205 202 x —11 15-0
t’Sas, Dewell (3) and Eaton; Draviczki, Shew (4) and Miller. W—Shew (6-1). L—t’Sas (2-2).
2B—SB: Fraker. MV: Anderson, Muno, Miller. 3B—SB: Dewell. HR—SB: Gniadek, 4th inn. one on. MV: Kuluris, 3rd inn. on one.


  1. Holly emerson says

    We are very proud of our Dons.  You made us proud, men!