Aquinas Seth Cesena

Aquinas third baseman Seth Cesena throws out a runner at first base.

SAN BERNARDINO — The Aquinas High baseball team won its first playoff game of the coach Mike Carpentier era in unusual fashion Friday, June 4.

The Falcons, en route to a 2-1 victory against Chaffey, put runners on first and second base in the third inning with singles by Kaden Willerford and Landon Young.

Chaffey’s big right-handed ace Ryan Ash retired the next two batters but then walked burly Aquinas catcher Ethan Cheek.

Cheek then purposely strayed off first base and drew a throw as Willerford broke for home plate and scored. In a nice bit of baserunning, Cheek stayed in a rundown between first and second base long enough for Young to score all the way from second.

“It’s a designed play where [Cheek] leaves the base and once he makes the throw everyone rolls to the next base,” Carpentier said. “We were lucky to have two good baserunners on second and third at that point. It was the perfect time to run it.”

The first-round CIF-Southern Section Division 6 victory propelled Aquinas (19-2) into the second round. The Falcons were scheduled to visit Orange on Tuesday, June 8 (too late for publication).

The normally potent Aquinas offensive attack was held to six hits by Ash, who threw hard and kept the Falcons off balance with effective breaking pitches.

“He hit his spots and he had a good off-speed pitch, and he threw a pretty good fastball,” Young said.

Ash never wilted for Chaffey, not even when he was in trouble. The Falcons put runners on second and third base with one out in the first, but the Chaffey pitcher escaped the jam with two strikeouts.

“It was tough to put stuff together today,” Carpentier said. “We left a lot of runners on base. We just couldn’t get that timely hit. And their pitcher was good. He was a big boy with a good arm who threw strikes. We had some good swings but hit the ball right at people.”

Ironically, Aquinas pummeled Chaffey in a scrimmage at the start of the season.

Chaffey (12-9) cut Aquinas’ 2-0 lead in half in the fourth inning following a leadoff double by Zach Sanchez. Sanchez came around to score on a passed ball and a squeeze bunt by Brandon Sandoval.

Cade Nolan pitched well for Aquinas, going the first four innings and yielding just two hits while striking out four. Eric Bitonti relieved Nolan with two out in the fourth inning and shut the Tigers out the rest of the way, giving up no hits and striking out four.

“They’ve been good all year for us and our plan was to go 1-2 punch and keep both of their pitch counts down and bring in Eric to end the game,” Carpentier said. “Both of them have done really well for us for the past two months.”

The Ambassador League champs were led at the plate by Young who went 2 for 3.

Bitonti, Nolan, Seth Rajacich and Willerford had one hit apiece.

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