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It was the thinnest of margins for the Dana Hills baseball team entering the final week of the season, but the Dolphins knew what they had to do: sweep a three-game set from third-place Trabuco Hills to surge into the final automatic CIF-SS playoff spot out of the South Coast League.
Dana Hills’ pitchers were dominant for three games, and with a dramatic exclamation point, the Dolphins got the job done.
After a third-straight one-run performance from the Dana Hills pitching staff, sophomore Tyler Baker stepped up with a pinch-hit RBI single to walk-off Trabuco Hills, 2-1, and send the Dolphins back to the CIF-SS playoffs on Friday, April 28, at Dana Hills High School.
“Coach came up to me before and said, ‘They’re going to give you a fastball down the middle, and you’re going to hit the crap out of it,’ “ Baker said. “I stepped up, a little nervous of course, a little cold coming off the bench, and they gave me a fastball middle away and took it up the middle.
“The second I saw it through,” Baker continued, “just threw the bat, threw my hands in the air. Great, great, great time.”
Dana Hills (11-17, 6-6) won three consecutive games for the first time all season, a campaign in which the Dolphins lost eight straight at one point. The Dolphins scored upsets of league title contenders Tesoro and Capistrano Valley in the previous week to keep open their one shot at the CIF-SS playoffs with this finale series against Trabuco Hills.
“I’ve gotta catch my breath,” said an emotional Tom Faris, Dana Hills head coach. “I’m pretty excited for them. They bust their ass. They’re good kids. They deserve it. The resiliency is coming out.”
Dana Hills now waits for its CIF-SS Division 3 playoff draw, as the brackets are released on Monday, May 1, at 10 a.m. The first round is scheduled for Thursday, May 4, with potential wild card games on Tuesday or Wednesday, May 2 or 3. Dana Hills has not won a playoff game since 2017.
“The seniors are so close. We knew we had to sweep them to make the playoffs,” Dana Hills senior starting pitcher Kade Murray said. “It’s something we’ve been talking about all year. That’s been our goal.”
Trabuco Hills scratched out its lone run in the fifth inning, but the Dana Hills pitching performance of Murray, Ben Moulin and Sterling Rapp held down the Mustangs long enough for the Dolphins’ chance in the bottom of the seventh.
Dana Hills got right to work with a lead-off single from Andrew Szkiba and a walk by Reed Ezor. Devin Rodgers tied the game on an RBI single, and Chase Rodgers was intentionally walked to load the bases with one out.
Baker’s number was called up to pinch hit in Murray’s spot, and his game-winning single sent the Dolphins streaming out of the dugout for a celebratory frenzy in right field.
“We’re not losing today,” Murray said of the team’s mentality. “We’re not losing on our field. We’re not going to let that happen today.”
Murray set the tone for Dana Hills on Friday by striking out the first five batters of the game and electrifying the Dolphins dugout early. Murray finished with seven strikeouts over 4 1/3 innings with one run allowed on two hits and two walks.
“A lot of adrenaline, lot of people here. I was trying to throw hard,” Murray said. “Change-up was good. Curveball was okay. I was throwing strikes, and (catcher) Caleb (Fry) called a great game too.”
Dana Hills also threatened on the basepaths in that first inning with their first three batters on base, but the Dolphins were caught running and flied out twice to end the opening opportunity. Dana Hills only had one baserunner over the next three innings.
Trabuco Hills wasn’t having much success against Murray either, as the Mustangs didn’t get their first hit until the fourth inning. However, Trabuco Hills clawed out the first run in the fifth.
The Mustangs led off with a single, a steal and a walk followed by a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly to the first run of the game across for the 1-0 lead.
Ben Moulin held down Trabuco Hills in the middle innings on the mound, and Sterling Rapp ended a two-man threat for the Mustangs with a strikeout in the seventh to give Dana Hills momentum into the final frame.
Dana Hills returns to the CIF-SS playoffs after missing the postseason a year ago.
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