Baseball Makes Historic Run in CIF Playoffs

1-0 thriller over Santa Barbara sends team to CIF-Southern Section Division IV third round, deepest playoff run in team history.


Courtesy of Brandon Perez

Connor Perez, sophomore, makes a catch against Linfield Christian High School as teammate Brian Shrubb, junior, races in from the outfield.

A surge of bleach blonde boys’ varsity baseball players stormed the field after a thrilling 1-0 win against Santa Barbara in an away playoff game on May 9. The win advanced the Wildcats to its first-ever appearance in the third round of the CIF-Southern Section Division IV Baseball Championships.

In the top of the seventh inning, Sam Dunbar, senior, drilled a base hit up the middle, driving home Dustin Robinson, senior, which secured the milestone victory for the Wildcats. 

Of the game-winning hit, Dunbar said, “I was locked in on the game and zoned everything else out. I just wanted to do my job. Making that hit was one of the best feelings I ever had.”

Robinson, who scored the winning run, said, “I just wanted Sam to advance me so I had a chance to make it home. It was really exciting.” 

Owen Brown, senior, sealed the historic victory by forcing a Santa Barbara batter into a flyout to fielder Christian Altamirano, senior, in the bottom of the seventh inning. Wildcats poured triumphantly out of the dugout. 

“Making it to round three [of CIF] was exhilarating. To come this far with this team, all the hard work we put in together paid off,” Tanner Lo, senior, said. 

Head coach Richard Pohle, who has helmed the program for four years, felt “happy to see how far they have come, not only as players, but also young men.” 

The team grew off the field as well. Prior to their CIF-clinching game against Yorba Linda on April 27, most  of the team members bleached their hair, an homage to supporters of the 2017 World Baseball Classic Puerto Rican team, who set a world record for “most hair dyed.” 

“We were inspired by their strong connection and wanted to emulate their closeness. It definitely bonded us as a team,” Lo said. 

Another tradition that brought the team closer together: a clash of gongs to punctuate each run scored. The tradition was started this year by Dustin Antuna and Brian Shrubb, juniors, and Brown at an away game earlier in the season. 

The Wildcats’ unprecedented run ended three days later in Temecula with a 6-3 loss to Linfield Christian High School. Despite holding a 3-0 lead in the top of the sixth behind five dominant innings by Altamirano, the Lions scored six runs in the bottom of the inning. The Wildcats were unable to answer, managing just two hits on the day, including a double by Bradley Medley, junior.  

Seniors Dustin Robinson (56) and Jayden Pack (33), and junior Brian Shrubb (1), stand for the National Anthem before the CIF-SS Div. IV playoff game against Ramona High School on May 5. (Courtesy of Bob Robinson)

“I was disappointed that we weren’t able to pull through with a win. It was a tough game,” Jayden Pack, senior, said. 

The Wildcats’ dramatic win over Santa Barbara wasn’t the season’s only highlight. The Wildcats finished North Hills League play in second place with a 5-4 record and secured a spot in the play-offs with a walk-off 4-3 win over league champion Yorba Linda High School on April 28.

In the game against the Mustangs, Pack stood at the plate with a two-strike count in the final inning of a 3-3 tie. 

“There was a lot of tension because our entire season would go down the drain if [Pack] didn’t make the hit,” pitcher Jason Senne, junior, said. 

Pack connected for a walk-off single, propelling the Wildcats into the playoffs. 

Senne said, “I could see the ball go off the bat, and it was a great feeling to realize we won.”

In the first round of CIF payoffs, the Wildcats edged past the visiting Ramona Rams, 5-3. Altamirano notched seven strikeouts in the win. 

Despite the loss to Linfield Christian, the team managed one of its most successful seasons ever with a 15-13-2 record overall, a second place finish in the North Hills League, and a pair of playoff wins.

Leading the way offensively were Pack with team highs of 15 runs batted in and 22 hits; Altamirano with 19 runs; and Lo with 13 walks. Robinson led the Wildcats in batting average (.318), on base percentage (.464), on base plus slugging (.949), and slugging (.485). The senior was selected to play in the Orange County North South All-Star game on June 6 

Altamirano was also a force on the mound, with five wins, 60 strike outs, and a 2.24 earned run average. 

“Coming into the season, I didn’t think we would’ve come as far as we did,” Robinson said. He attributes the teams’ success and improvement (two years ago, the Wildcats were 1-5 in league) to how close the team has become. “Halfway through the season, we started to bond, and I feel like that’s why we started to do so good,” he said.

“We really became family,” Antuna said 

Lo added, “Taking in all the memories on and off the field, I couldn’t be more proud of the team.”

Wildcats varsity baseball celebrates its 1-0 win over Santa Barbara. The victory advanced the team to the third round of CIF-SS playoffs. (Courtesy of Brandon Perez)