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Beckman comes up short in semifinals
ALHAMBRA — Neither head coach in Tuesday's CIF-SS Division 3 semifinal between Beckman and Alhambra ever considered starting their ace.
Beckman decided beforehand that UCLA signee James Kaprielian wouldn't even appear in relief after throwing two complete games in the playoffs and nine this season.
"We just didn't want to do that to him," Beckman coach Kevin Lavalle said. "We've asked a little bit too much from him this year already."
Alhambra, looking to reach its first final since 1927, had no such qualms with the diminutive Marco Briones, the sophomore lefty standing at least half a foot shorter than Kaprielian.
The mound adds 10 inches, of course, and no one stood taller on it than Briones, who led underdog Alhambra to a 6-4 comeback victory at Moor Field against defending division champion Beckman.
Alhambra will face Bonita of La Verne for the section title on Friday at Dodger Stadium at 1:30 p.m.
"Never Nervous Marco," Alhambra coach Steve Gewecke called Briones. "The moment doesn't seem to get to him."
With the scored tied at 4-all in the fourth inning, Juan Crespo hit a deep fly ball to left field and right in the sun. Barring never did locate it and it went off his glove, scoring two runs.
"It was a very, very difficult play," Lavalle said. "You can practice it all you want. When the ball is in the middle of the sun, there's absolutely nothing you can do.
"Grant hung in there as long as he could on it and tried to catch the sun, which is what we tell them. I don't even know if it was an error."
That capped a five-run rally for Alhambra (24-3), which has not hit a home run all season and produced only singles in overcoming an early 4-0 deficit against Beckman (22-8).
"It looked bleak," Gewecke said. "The big deal was to stay with our own approach. We're not a power team. That's what I got. That's the hand I'm dealt. We're not complaining about it. We just got to win a different way."
The Patriots built their lead on run-scoring singles from Conner Deneen, Jake Hazard and two from Alex Shenasi. But the Patriots left 12 runners on base and managed just three hits off Briones over the final 3 1/3 innings.
Briones, who also added an RBI single, improved to 10-0.
Deneen, who threw a complete-game shutout in the second round last week, also his first varsity start, took the mound again and started fast before getting knocked around in the fourth.
"That's a good baseball team," Lavalle said of Alhambra. "They got theirs in bunches and ultimately the big inning was the knockout punch. It hurts and it's supposed to hurt. I hurt with them too."
Alhambra, which has won eight consecutive Almont League titles, was making its first appearance in the semifinals since 1948.
Beckman bowed out of the playoffs after making its fourth consecutive trip to at least the CIF-SS quarterfinals and winning its fourth consecutive Pacific Coast League title. The program won just 11 games combined in its first three seasons before Lavalle took over in 2007.
"This is an incredible run for these seniors," Lavalle said. "Those seniors now go from being my players to my friends. They set the bar really, really high for the classes to come.
"They've established a tradition of winning. It's no longer, are we going to win? It's, 'how are we going to win?' "