May 29—VISALIA — Kennedy had scored 34 runs across its first three CIF playoff games. Its biggest offensive play in the championship against Reedley-Immanuel came on a soft grounder in the infield with a runner on first base.
Rather than victims of a double play, the Thunderbirds found themselves beneficiaries of a Little League home run.
The Eagles sailed throws from second base and then from left field trying to catch Jeremiah Guerra and Julian Orozco on the base paths. By the end of the play, both runners had crossed home plate to give Kennedy a 5-4 lead in the fifth inning.
Thanks to steady pitching from Orozco late — even with a runner in scoring position in the seventh inning — the Thunderbirds held the lead and escaped Visalia Saturday with a Division V section title.
"We've taken advantage of a lot of teams' mistakes. ... They made one more mistake than us, and we were able to take advantage of that," Kennedy coach Jacob Fragoso said.
"The close score was something that we're not used to," he added.
Last year's Kennedy baseball team won three games by a combined 48-0 margin on its way to a D-VI title. This year, after an up-and-down league slate, the Thunderbirds were at 34-2 through three playoff matchups entering Saturday.
Immanuel tested them. The Eagles tied the game 1-1 in the third on an RBI, at 3-3 in the fourth against starter Miguel Barraza, then took the lead in the fifth against Orozco.
All that fell by the wayside after the two-error play, and the end result is back-to-back section championships for a program that previously had none.
"It feels tremendous for these kids," Fragoso said. "Going from D-VI now to D-V and being able to handle business is a great feeling, just a testament to their hard work, to their commitment."
Orozco picked up the win on the mound with one earned run in three innings after beginning the game in left field. The Kennedy offense was led by Sergio Gonzalez, who was 2-for-3 and had a clutch two-RBI single with the bases loaded in the third inning. The junior speculated about bigger things to come for Kennedy.
"Next year we're going to keep on going," he said. "We go to D-IV, hopefully we take it there."
Guerra also had two hits for Kennedy. Gerardo Salazar had the Thunderbirds' lone extra-base hit, a double down the third-base line off Immanuel starter Joey Juarez that opened the scoring in the second inning.
The Eagles showed some real resolve in the following frame, drawing consecutive full-count walks against Barraza with two outs to set up Juarez to help his own cause with a single to right. Baserunner Nick Coleman was out at third but Calob Hayes had already scored by then.
Kennedy got some good luck right away as a Guerra bloop single dropped into center, Orozco reached first on an infield hit and Ever Murguia was hit by a pitch. That's when Gonzalez sent a well-aimed ball up the middle to make it 3-1.
Immanuel started strong in the fourth inning with a single by Xzavier Gonzalez and double to deep left from Eli Garay (3-for-3 with two doubles and two RBIs) that scored him easily. A groundout and error brought Garay home to even the score. Barraza allowed another single and walk before getting out of the inning.
When he walked Juarez to open the fifth, Orozco came in to pitch. That didn't help matters right away as he gave up another walk, followed by the go-ahead double from Garay. But Joseph Escobedo lined into a double play to end the threat, allowing Kennedy to retake the lead later in the inning.
The Eagles went down in order in the sixth, but had a good chance in the seventh thanks to a leadoff infield single by Hayes.
After a fielder's choice, wild pitch and groundout, Immanuel ended up with Nick Coleman at third and two outs for Xzavier Gonzalez. But Orozco struck him out swinging to cement the Kennedy victory.
The Thunderbirds will await a prospective regional playoff matchup on Tuesday.
"We graduate next week, but we're still playing baseball," Fragoso said. "What a beautiful thing."
Reporter Henry Greenstein can be reached at 661-395-7374. Follow him on Twitter: @HenryGreenstein.