Dons pound Aliso Niguel with 12 runs in first; next stop Yucaipa

Santa Barbara didn’t let its two-week break from playing a game go to waste.

The Dons made sure they stayed sharp on offense by facing live pitching from their top five arms before taking the field for their CIF Division 2 baseball playoff opener against Aliso Niguel.

Batting against Danny Zandona, Collin Dewell, Kees t’Sas, Nick Below and Lucas Benenati in practice paid off big time on Thursday for the Dons, as they pummeled Aliso Niguel for 12 runs in the first inning en route to a 13-3 romp before a big crowd at Eddie Mathews Field.

Lucas Benenati is greeted at home plate after hitting a three-run homer in the first inning. (Photo by Jeanise Eaton)

The Dons sent 16 batters to the plate in the first inning and mashed 12 hits against two Aliso Niguel pitchers. The big blows were a three-run homer to left by Benenati, a two-run single to left by Kees t’Sas and a two-run double by Pepe Gil, who had a three RBIs and two hits in the inning. Dewell Cam Gniadek, Spencer Fraker and Zandona all RBIs in the inning.

Credit the Dons pitching staff for getting the hitters ready.

“We did nothing but face our live guys. We were facing Danny, Collin, Kees and Nick and Lucas, all our guys that throw,” Fraker said. “We were facing quality pitching, so that’s what got us ready for this.”

Fraker scored the first run on a booming double over the center fielder’s head by Dewell.

“As soon as Fraker got on and scored that first one, it just electrocuted the dugout,” said Benenati. “Twelve-run first inning, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

The run support was more than enough for Zandona, who improved to 9-1. He went the distance, allowing the runs on a three-run homer by Seth Rinaldi in the fifth inning. He gave up nine hits and struck out seven.

“With Danny on the mound, it was a lock-grip on the game,” said Santa Barbara coach Fred Warrecker.

The Dons (21-6) get a return trip to Yucaipa for a second-round game on Tuesday. They lost there in last year’s quarterfinals. Yucaipa, a wild-card team, won 5-3 at West Torrance in the first round.

Santa Barbara was a little miffed when the pairings were released and had them possibly facing an Aliso Niguel team that won 21 games, including two wins over Mission Viejo in league play.

Aliso Niguel (22-11) handily beat Norwalk in a wild-card game on Tuesday for its first playoff win since 2005. But the Wolverines were rocked by Santa Barbara once the got off the bus.

They got the first out before Fraker, Dewell, t’Sas and Gil rapped consecutive hits for two runs. After Zandona flew out to center, Benenati blasted his third homer of the year for a 5-0 lead.

Colin Eaton, Kenny Crawford, Cam Gniadek and Fraker kept the hit parade going before starting pitcher Brian Bass was pulled.

An error by the first baseman put Dewell back on base against new pitcher Ryan Randel, and the Dons followed with consecutive hits by t’Sas, Gil, and Zandona for five more runs.

“To start off a game like that, it’s huge,” Fraker said. “Just to get one run in the first inning, knowing Danny is out on the mound that is huge, and to come back and get 12, I mean …”

“It was one of those nightmare innings for them and it was super for us,” said Warrecker.

t’Sas went 4-for-4, while Fraker went 3-for-5 and Crawford 3-for-4. The Dons had 18 hits.