With a trip to the Southern Section Division 1 championship baseball game on the line, coach Brett Kay of San Juan Capistrano JSerra High put together a simple game plan on Tuesday against Villa Park: “Don’t let Gavin Grahovac beat us.”
Calling him “the best player on the planet,” Kay ordered an intentional walk for Grahovac in the bottom of the seventh inning to load the bases with two outs, sending the potential winning run to the plate for Villa Park.
Closer Tyler Gough, who has committed to Oregon State, struck out the next batter, preserving a 4-1 victory and propelling the Lions into Friday’s 7 p.m. championship game against Sherman Oaks Notre Dame at Cal State Fullerton.
David Horn, who has committed to Vanderbilt, came through with his best pitching performance of the season, holding the Spartans scoreless for six innings while striking out six and walking one.
JSerra (21-10) had been relying on a pitching-by-committee strategy for much of the season, but Horn texted Kay on Saturday and wanted the chance to start on the mound.
“I think I had a moment of clarity today,” Horn said. “I wanted the ball. I wanted to punch the ticket.”
The challenge was dealing with Grahovac, a teammate from club baseball.
“I know how good he is,” Horn said. “The competitor in me, I’m fearless. I’m going to attack. The plan was not to let him beat us.”
Grahovac, a junior shortstop and potential first-round draft pick next season, came in with 46 hits, including 16 doubles and five home runs. In the first inning, JSerra used four outfielders and he hit the first pitch so hard it almost went out. Center fielder Jake Bourne caught it while crashing into the fence.
In the second inning, with the bases loaded, Grahovac hit the ball hard again but right to second baseman Owen Fuller for a groundout. In the fifth inning with two runners on, he hit a one-hopper to shortstop Jonathan Mendez that led to a double play.
JSerra took advantage of two hit batters and a dropped pop up behind home plate to score all four of its runs in the first inning, with Mendez getting a two-run double and Horn contributing a two-run single. Gough closed the game by striking out the side.
It sets up for another highly competitive Trinity League vs. Mission League final on Friday. Notre Dame received a three-hit shutout from Oliver Boone to defeat Huntington Beach 2-0. It means Notre Dame ace Cole Clark will be well rested to pitch against a JSerra team that has recovered from a 1-5 start in league play to return to the championship game after losing last season in the final to Studio City Harvard-Westlake 3-0.
“Enjoy the moment,” Kay told the team on Friday. “But you’re not finished.”
Woodland Hills El Camino Real 9, San Pedro 1: The defending City Section champion Royals earned another trip to the Open Division championship game behind a complete game from Brooke DeSmet.
Camryn Fritz had three hits and three RBIs for El Camino Real.
El Camino Real will face Granada Hills Kennedy in Saturday’s 3 p.m. final at Cal State Northridge. Kennedy defeated Carson 9-3.
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