Dana Hills' Joe DeBaca of Dana Hills is mobbed by teammates after hitting a solo home run in the sixth inning. Dana Hills beat Great Oak, 4-0, Wednesday in a wild-card playoff game.

Cota, Dana Hills pull off surprise with shutout victory


TEMECULA – Dana Hills coach Tom Faris gambled Wednesday, but he knew he had an ace up his sleeve.

Instead of sending out No. 1 starting pitcher, Hans Crouse, to face Great Oak of Temecula in the wild-card round of the CIF-SS Division I baseball playoffs, Faris chose 5-foot-9 left-hander Kayl Cota, who had been battling shoulder soreness for more than a month.

“On Monday, coach asked me how I felt, and I told him I was ready to go,” Cota said. “I just want to thank him for trusting me to pitch in this game.”

Faris played his cards correctly, as Cota tossed a three-hit shutout and struck out nine in Dana Hills’ 4-0 win over the Wolfpack.

“His fastball was hitting the corners, and their hitters seemed to be uncomfortable with his curveball most of the day,” Faris said. “It was one of the best pitching performances I’ve seen in all of my time here.”

Crouse will be put to the test Friday when the Dolphins (14-16) face top-seeded JSerra.

Cota didn’t overpower the Wolfpack (16-16), but he had enough stuff to keep them off-balance.

“He had a good curveball, good off-speed, and he was just keeping us on our toes all game,” said Wolfpack junior shortstop Worth Planer, who had two of his team’s three hits, all singles. “He located the fastball well — one’s in, the next one’s out. He was real consistent with location.”

Cota bested Great Oak ace Zack Noll (7-4). The Oregon-bound senior surrendered a run in the fourth, and two more in the fifth, after a wild pitch on a strikeout allowed the inning to continue.

“It’s a game of luck, and you really can’t do much about it,” said Noll, who allowed four runs and seven hits while striking out eight. “It was a good pitch, but it happens. It’s baseball.”

Great Oak loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth. But Cota slammed the door, freezing Owen Janes on a 2-2 curve.

“It’s kind of been our thing this year,” said Wolfpack coach Eric Morton. “We always seem to be one or two hits away from giving ourselves an opportunity.”

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