At first glance, the setting was surreal. Groomed grass, dirt that looked like it had been freshly painted, TV cameras everywhere, outfield fences that donned some of baseball’s greats and 56,000 seats all waiting for someone to sit in them.
Dodger Stadium, one of the most well known Big League stadiums in Southern California, played host on Friday night, June 6, to the CIF Southern Section Championships once again this year, and though it’s every little kid’s dream to play ball in a big league ballpark, it seemed all too familiar for the Golden Bears from Temecula Valley High School.
Almost one year ago to the day the Bears found themselves in the exact same position, playing in the final game of the CIF-SS Division 2 Championships. In fact, Temecula Valley has been here two other times as well, in 1992 and again in 2005, but never have they brought home a championship.
“Tonight we knew it was going to be different, tonight we came here to win and that’s what we set out to do, since day one,” said Tony Nobienski, Temecula Valley’s head coach.
Last year the Bears showed up to Dodger Stadium without their bats and dropped the Championship game to Cypress, 5-0.
“It wasn’t a fluke that this team got here last year and we obviously proved that by making it here again this year,” said Nobienski, who also admits there was never a doubt in his mind about the strength of this year’s team, which was almost the exact replica of the squad from last year.
Temecula Valley was senior heavy this year, returning 17 seniors in all to the 2013/14 squad that played in what MaxPreps recently posted as “the strongest league in the nation” – the Southwestern League.
The Golden Bears were the runner ups this year in league, finishing 9-6 just behind Southwestern League Champions Great Oak, who were 23-7 overall and 11-4 in league. The Wolfpack squad was hoping to meet up with their rivals from down the street during this playoff run, which would have been the fifth time they played each other this season.
Both teams met up early on in the pre-season during the championship game of the Pirate/Falcon Tournament, and then again three times during league, all of which would see Great Oak overpower their cross town rivals every time.
“They (Great Oak) are a great team and were on a good run through the playoffs, as were we,” said Nobienski, “but when we saw that Aliso Niguel knocked them off last week, we knew that we could potentially be playing that team if we got past Valencia.”
Aliso Niguel, 23-9 overall and 9-3 in league, were also the runner ups in their Sea View League and were making their second finals appearance in the school’s history after defeating La Mirada in the semi-finals 8-0.
In 2012, the Wolverines lost 3-2 to Pacifica of Garden Grove and had been rumored as the team to beat this year, especially with their ace who would just happen to be going against Temecula Valley, future UCLA Bruin Kyle Molnar.
Temecula Valley would get their first ups as the visiting team and would go to work early against Molnar, doing what the Bears did best all season by jumping out to an early lead, in this case a four run lead, capitalizing on two crucial errors that were made at first base.
David Maldonado, who will be playing next year at SDSU, led off the game with a single up the middle and then the hit fest began with the entire Bears lineup stepping up to the plate in the first inning.
Seniors Aj Sawyer, Samari Buchanan and Alec Garrett would all deliver on RBI base hits to give the Golden Bears some insurance to start the game.
On the mound for Temecula Valley was Brandon Koch, a UCR committee who had an 8-1 record this season with a 0.73 ERA in almost 58 innings pitched with 50 strikeouts recorded in the books to lead the way for the Bears.
Koch would make quick work of the bottom half of the first inning striking out lead off batter Domenic Colacchio, but got a little shaky giving up a first pitch single to Justin Fowler, then beamed sophomore Blake Sabol before getting pitcher and clean up hitter Kyle Molnar to ground out leading to first baseman Eric Wagaman popping out to Mitch Kemp who made a great play going over the rail in foul territory on the third base side to make the grab.
The Golden Bears slowed down a bit offensively as the game progressed while Aliso Niguel players, Blake Sabol and team captain Anthony Sommer would try everything they could to get the Wolverines back in the fight. Sabol would have three hits overall on the day with two stolen bases but it was Sommer that delivered on a double that led to center fielder Remy Wasserbac driving him in for an early run in the second inning.
Temecula Valley would keep their three run lead through four innings until things started to get a little hairy for the Bears. A walk to the Wolverines right fielder Mitchell Brady would lead to a controversial call at first base that went the way of the Bears on a sacrifice bunt by Wasserbach, where he was called out on a very close play. This brought up Colacchio again who hit a line drive to the right field gap plating Brady making the score 4-2.
The score would remain 4-2 through the seventh inning, but that’s not to say that great plays weren’t being made by both teams, especially a potential inning saving catch on the run by Jordan Gardner in the outfield and a clutch throw out by Nick Juhl from behind the plate, both of which were made in the fifth inning as the Wolverines were looking to rally.
David Maldonado would once again come to the plate and deliver on a clutch base hit, this time in the seventh inning with a double that went off the wall in left field on the fly.
Maldonado would get pinch run for junior Matt Poladian as he came up holding his hamstring after rounding first base. A balk by Molnar would send Poladian to third base and a hard hit base hit up the middle by Kyle Plantier would bring home a much needed insurance run going into the bottom of the seventh.
Aliso Niguel tried to take advantage of a pitching change that brought in senior reliever Jared Morton to the hill and though he started off rocky by hitting a batter after getting a first out ground out, it was an error at second base by Plantier that would put two runners on base, sending some worry to the visiting crowd.
A base hit by Sabol (his third on the day) would load up the bases for the Wolverine’s as pitcher Kyle Molnar stepped in to hit a sacrifice fly to the outfield scoring their third run.
With the fan levels raising on both sides of the stadium, Morton would strike out Aliso Niguel’s Eric Wagaman to end the game at 5-3, sending the Temecula crowd into a frenzy filled with relief as the Bears picked up their first ever CIF Championship win.
“I’m very proud of everyone involved with our baseball program, especially our players. They really locked in on what needed to be done on both sides of the plate in order to bring home this win!” exclaimed Nobienski.