Dana Hills players celebrate with Marrick Crouse (10) after he was called safe at first in the eighth inning, helping them beat Capistrano Valley, 3-2, on Friday afternoon.

Dana Hills escapes with victory in wild finish


DANA POINT -- Dana Hills coach Tom Farris was talking about what it takes to win the South Coast League baseball championship.

“Grit and fire and a lot of hard work,” he said.

A little luck doesn’t hurt.

In a game crucial to the playoff futures of both teams, third-ranked Dana Hills beat Capistrano Valley, 3-2 on Friday at Dana Hills. The Dolphins scored the winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Dana Hills’ Jay Schuyler was on second base with two outs in the eighth. Marrick Crouse hit a chopper to shortstop, sped up the line, and arrived at first base just as a low throw forced a long stretch by the first baseman who the umpire ruled had pulled his foot off of the bag before the ball’s arrival.

As the umpire at first base was making the two-handed, sweeping gesture to indicate what happened, Schuyler was around third base and kept running as everyone’s attention on the field and in the dugouts was directed toward first base.

“Once I got halfway down the line,” Schuyler said, “I took a peak and saw the ump wave him safe. It didn’t hit me we had just won the game. I don’t think anyone saw me touch home.”

It was a close call at first base. Players and coaches from both teams were stunned by how the game ended, with the visiting team’s daze not as pleasant as the home team’s. It took a couple of moments for them to snap out of it and get organized for the postgame lineup of handshakes.

Capistrano Valley coach Bob Zamora has seen a lot in 40 years of coaching baseball, a game in which odd endings seem to happen more often than any other game. He declined to discuss his opinion of the game-deciding call, preferring to look forward.

“Hey,” he said, “we can still win the league championship next week.”

Indeed the Cougars can. They are 5-5 in the league, two games behind league-leading Aliso Niguel which is 6-4. In between them is Tesoro, at 6-5.

Capistrano Valley plays Aliso twice next week, the final week of the regular season. If the Cougars win both games they would be 7-5 and co-champion or perhaps outright champion. If Tesoro beats El Toro in Tesoro’s final league game today, Tesoro finishes 7-5.

Dana Hills plays El Toro twice next week. If the Dolphins win both games they finish 7-5. They had to win Friday to stay in contention for a playoff berth.

Only the top three finishers in the five-team league go to the playoffs in CIF-SS Division 1. There will be no at-large berths in Division 1, so the fourth- and fifth-place teams will not be playoff participants.

Capistrano Valley, 11-16-1 overall, had taken a 2-1 lead in the eighth inning. Adam Gordon reached on an error, went to second base on Jordan Bocko’s single and scored on Jake Ortega’s sacrifice fly to center field.

The starting pitchers were excellent. Capistrano Valley senior right-hander Zach Haffner threw seven innings, allowed one earned run, four hits, one walk and struck out three. Dana Hills sophomore right-hander Hans Crouse went six innings, gave up one earned run, four hits, four walks and struck out eight with all eight strikeouts in the first three innings.

Dana Hills took a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Zach Wolf doubled to drive in Justin Sterner who had singled with two outs. Sterner pitched the seventh and eighth innings.

The Cougars tied it in the third inning when Gordon’s two-out double drove in Jared Joel who had walked.

“Fortunately we’re still in this thing,” Farris said. “We could win two games next week and come out as league champs.”

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