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San Ysidro baseball team defies odds to play for Division III title Phillip Brents | Fri, May 31 2013 08:16 AM

The San Ysidro Cougars baseball team has been knocking on the proverbial door the past few seasons. Now they've finally kicked it in.

The Cougars finished the 2008 campaign with a 19-12-1 record and appeared in three playoff games, posting one victory.

Coach Kenny Canche’s team finished 2009 with a 22-8 overall record after going 10-2 in league play. However, the team lost its playoff opener, 14-4, to El Capitan.

The Cougars finished 17-11 in 2010, losing to Brawley in the playoffs.

San Ysidro finished the 2011 high school baseball season with a 19-10-1 overall record, 12-0 in South Bay League play. The Cougars’ playoff run ended, however, with a 6-1 loss to Poway.

Last season, San Ysidro paid its dues with a 9-20 regular season finish, failing to qualify for the playoffs.
The Cougars have finally gotten over the playoff “hump” this season. And in major fashion: On Friday, San Ysidro (17-15) will play for the Division III championship title.

Game time is 3:30 p.m. at the University of San Diego’s new Fowler Park.

“This is amazing,” said Cougar coach Ken Canche, referring not only to the team’s first trip to a CIF title game but also the level of play it has shown in making its history-making postseason run.

San Ysidro’s playoff odyssey has been nothing less than inspiring. The Cougars, who finished 7-5 in South Bay League play, earned the No. 11 seed (out of 12 teams) and promptly upset No. 6-seeded Francis Parker (4-0 on May 21), No. 3-seeded Serra (4-1 on May 22), No. 10-seeded Canyon Crest (5-3 last Friday) and No. 2-seeded Del Norte (13-4 on Tuesday).

San Ysidro will play top-seeded San Dieguito Academy (27-9) after the Mustangs eliminated ninth-seeded Christian (23-12) in an 11-inning cliffhanger on Wednesday.

The Cougars trailed the Nighthawks in Tuesday’s semifinal game, 4-0, before closing out the contest with 13 unanswered runs. The visitors scored four times in the fifth inning, six times in the sixth inning and three times in the seventh inning.

“We’ve been getting better and better, and (against Del Norte) we had great focus,” Canche said. “We were good in every area.”

Junior Daniel Tellez earned honors as San Ysidro’s player of the game after coming into the game in relief and holding the Nighthawks (22-10) scoreless for three innings on three hits. Tellez also helped his own cause with a hit and scored one run.

Senior Jose Garcia and sophomore Octavio Arroyo each stroked a double and finished the game with three RBI. Freshman Conrado Diaz hit a home run and also had three RBI.

Sophomore Andres Alvarez had a double and two RBI. Arroyo scored three times in the game while junior Carlo Mancillas, Garcia and Alvarez each scored twice.

“Everybody stepped up,” Canche said. “We really wanted this so bad, and we were ready. To do something like this, you have to get better as a team game after game and (against Del Norte) we took the biggest step.”

In last Friday’s win, sophomores Gilbert Suarez and Jose Torres combined on a four-hitter. Suarez also went 2-for-3 with a triple and one RBI. 

Arroyo threw a four-hitter at Serra while Suarez drove in two runs.

Junior Jose Magallon got the Cougars going by pitching a complete game shutout in the play-in victory against Francis Parker.

Players said they never lost sight of the goal — a trip to the CIF finals — despite the team’s sluggish start to the season.

“We have a lot of sophomores who play for us, so I knew we might need some time to come together,” team captain Garcia said. “We believe that anything is possible if you work hard together.”

Garcia leads the Cougars this season with a .462 hitting average, followed by Arroyo (.402), Diaz (.396) and Suarez (.391). RBI leaders include Diaz (28), Garcia (27), Suarez (20) and Arroyo (18).

On the mound, Magallon is 6-3 with a 2.64 earned-run average while Arroyo is 3-3 with a 2.48 ERA.

SYHS athletic director Terry Tucker called Canche “a teacher and coach who loves coaching and being with his team.”

“He cares about the students — that’s what makes him genuine to his players … they know he cares about them,” Tucker explained. “They know he’s going to get after them about grades or baseball when he needs to and, at the same time, they know he’s doing it because he wants them to be the best they can be — on and off the field.”

Tucker said it has been easy for the Cougars to follow Canche’s lead because of their coach’s work ethic and preparation.

“He sets the example and leads the way,” Tucker said in regard to Canche. “One word that comes to mind about him is focus. He is single-minded in terms of a professional standpoint. He is never going to let anything get in the way of the team being prepared and playing as well as it can. He’s really good at knowing and getting a sense of what makes players tick and then being able to motivate them. The surrounding community has been uplifted by the accomplishments of the school’s baseball team.”

Tucker credited Canche as the driving force behind that success.

“With only three seniors on the varsity this year, most coaches would have been talking about (being successful) two years from now, not Kenny,” Tucker said. “He gave this young team clear goals and a plan to reach their goals.”

Now they are within reach.

A press release from San Ysidro High School was used in preparation of this story.

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