Mission Viejo earns spot in Div. 2 semifinals


LA VERNE – By the top of the seventh inning, both Mission Viejo and Damien of La Verne had several of their bench players in the game, but very little changed.

In his second plate appearance after pinch-hitting in the sixth, Mission Viejo’s Mitch Holland crushed a home run off the top of the scoreboard in left field to further elongate a game that had long been decided.

Then, down 10 runs in the bottom of the seventh, Damien’s last batter struck out.

It was that kind of day for both teams: the Diablos' bats on fire; the Spartans struggling just to get out of the batter’s box.

The county's preseason No. 1 team played like it Friday, and the Diablos' 12-2 victory over the Spartans earned them a spot in the CIF-SS Division 2 semifinals.

“They’re playing with confidence,” Mission Viejo coach Chris Ashbach said. “When you get a good feel like that, different guys contribute, and it makes it fun. … We’re playing as well as we’ve played all year, that’s for sure.”

The Diablos (21-13) struck early, with two runs in the first and two more in the second, before exploding for five runs in the fourth. Damien (17-13) had no answer for the Diablos' hitters.  

A pair of timely triples from Boog Powell and Ryan Raslowsky collectively drove in five of those runs, and by the end of the fourth, it was 9-1. The Diablos tacked on one more run in the fifth before Holland’s two-run home run ended the scoring.

Powell said that a sense of urgency is driving the team's offensive production.

“We’re in the playoffs, and now we’ve got the motivation,” Powell said. “It’s lose and go home.”

While his teammates were lighting up the scoreboard, Mission Viejo pitcher Willie Kuhl was settling in. Though Kuhl looked erratic early on and gave up a run in the first, he said that once he got adjusted to the mound and had some run support, the pressure lifted. 

“The first run was definitely a little nerve-racking,” Kuhl said. “We’ve never been this far in the playoffs.”

Kuhl gave up only two runs on two hits and stuck out 11 in his complete-game effort.

The victory extends Mission Viejo’s winning streak to five, and the team will seek No. 6 on Tuesday at home against Santa Barbara.

If the Diablos manage to make it to seven wins in a row, they’ll be right back where they started. They’ll be No. 1, again.  

“Whether it ends Tuesday, or we continue on, these guys are enjoying themselves at the end of the year,” Ashbach said. “And that’s the way to finish.”

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