There are victories that define a high school sports program. For the San Ysidro baseball team that benchmark win occurred last Friday when the Cougars defeated top-seeded San Dieguito Academy, 2-1, to win the San Diego Section Division III championship title.
The CIF title was the first for any sports team at the school, which opened in 2002.
“The student body and faculty are just ecstatic,” SYHS Athletic Director Terry Tucker said. “All the kids at the school saw what the result of hard work and dedication can accomplish.”
The Cougars’ history-making run to the division title will be savored not only for its uniqueness but also the way in which the team won it.
San Ysidro entered the Division III playoffs as the No. 11 seed in the 12-team division. The Cougars repeatedly defied the odds throughout their five games in this year’s post-season tournament by defeating, in order, the No. 6, No. 10, No. 3, No. 2 and No. 1 seeds.
The Cougars were well supported in the stands at the University of San Diego’s new Fowler Park. Tucker said four busloads of student fans attended last Friday’s game.
“We had 350 students at the game,” Tucker said. “We wanted to give the team as much positive support as possible. We were loud and proud.”
San Ysidro made the most of its four hits in the game off pitcher Noah Huggins.
The Cougars (18-15) scored both their runs in the bottom of the fifth inning. Oscar Polanco doubled over the head of San Dieguito’s center fielder. Starting pitcher Octavio Arroyo helped his own cause with a run-scoring single to break the scoreless tie.
Arroyo took care of business by hurling what coaches and teammates later termed the best game of his career.
The Mustangs (27-8) put the game-tying and go-ahead runs on base – both on walks – in the top of the seventh inning with one down. But Arroyo successfully pitched out of the jam with a strikeout and groundout.
Players promptly mobbed Arroyo after the final out.
The division championship was the first for SYHS coach Ken Canche in 22 years of coaching.
He summed up the feeling in one word: “amazing.”
“The team had struggled in the early part of the year but going into that last inning they were calm and you could tell they believed in themselves,” Tucker said. “I knew then that San Ysidro was going to win. It was just an unbelievable experience. I just can’t put it into words.”
Arroyo, who entered the championship game with a 3-3 record and 2.43 earned-run average, scattered six hits and struck out four batters to pick up the win.
Drake Peters scored SDA’s lone run. He had two hits in the game, along with teammate Jack Williams, to lead the Mustangs. Huggins finished the game with five strikeouts.
The Cougars’ success came during the section’s initial use of playoff divisions based on competition level rather than student enrollment.
Section Commissioner Jerry Schniepp said he believed the new competition-based playoff divisions were, in his words, “very exciting and competitive.”
“San Ysidro is a great example of a school seizing the opportunity to compete against programs with similar histories and play its best baseball of the year in the playoffs,” Schniepp said. “There were many upsets — a No. 9 seed and No. 11 seed won championships — and I think we’ll continue to see great competition and excitement as we set our divisions based on competitiveness.”
“The biggest story for us is that our kids learned that they can complete their goals,” Tucker said. “It’s changed everything in our community.”
SAN DIEGO SECTION BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS
(1) Rancho Bernardo 4, (2) Granite Hills 2
(2) Grossmont 5, (8) Mira Mesa 2
(9) Mission Hills 3, (3) Madison 0
(11) San Ysidro 2, (1) San Dieguito Academy 1
(5) Mt. Carmel 4, (6) El Centro Southwest 3
(4) Calvin Christian 8, (3) Julian 0