RIVERSIDE – The Austin Gorrell Memorial Baseball Classic has returned for the eighth time since the unexpected passing of Kerry and Gina Gorrell’s oldest son in 2015, and this year the number of entries was bigger than ever. Not only is this tournament centered around the memory of Austin, who played in high school for JW North, and in college for the University of Nevada, but the family suffered another tremendous loss in late October when Gina, who had been battling pancreatic cancer for almost four years, lost her battle.

Prior to the start of this year’s event, a beautiful service was held Tuesday, Nov. 14, at the Grove Church in Riverside where friends and family gathered to not only celebrate Gina’s life, but to share her story. Memories included her love for horses, cheerleading, McDonalds, her Italian heritage, her family, and of course…baseball.

That love for the game came from the passion that Austin had, as well as that of his little brother Adam. During Austin’s freshman year of college, he had been diagnosed with a heart condition called cardiomyopathy, a diagnosis that came during his preseason physical in 2015. When he passed away, he was not wearing his assigned defibrillator vest while sleeping in his dorm room, which according to his family, was more than likely a result of him accidentally falling asleep without meaning to not wear it.

His sudden death shook the Inland baseball community and that is when the Austin Gorrell Memorial Baseball Classic sprouted. The tournament was created by family and friends that wanted to not only help honor Austin, but to also help local players with scholarship opportunities for college.

While the Gorrell family took another heavy hit with the loss of their tournament matriarch, they vowed to continue on with running one of the most successful not-for-profit tournaments in Southern California, while honoring the memory of both Gina and Austin.

This year’s tournament is taking place November 17-21, and what had first started out having only nine high school baseball teams in 2015, is now a major draw this time of year with a record 47 teams getting at least three games guaranteed.

The tournament always opens up with the annual Home Run Derby at Ryan Bonaminio Park in Riverside on the eve before games begin. Reagan Samples from Los Osos High School was this year’s winner with 77 total home runs. The weekend then started with pool play games at designated host sites on Saturday, Nov. 18.

“As a competitor and a coach you want to win, but you also have to remember what you are here for,” said Murrieta Valley head coach Bryn Wade. “Be strategic with your pitching, get all your players quality reps and get an early gauge on some of the other team’s rosters while you can.”

Murrieta Valley head coach, Bryn Wade (right), goes over game strategy with assistant coaches, Mark Barbee (left) and Rick Johnson. Valley News/JP Raineri photo

Teams from inside the Valley News coverage area included Vista Murrieta, Great Oak, Temescal Canyon, Citrus Hill and Murrieta Mesa, who were all host sites for the first day, and a couple of the schools even hosted on the second and third day (first and second day of bracket play). That includes the Rams, who not only honored Gina and Austin by wearing purple shirts with the No. 20 on them, but it was also to honor Julie Maestas, the school’s assistant Athletic Director who passed away earlier this year after losing her battle to cancer.

“I am secretly pulling for them to win it all,” said one of the Gorrell family members in a text message to their group of volunteers.

These games are not CIF-Southern Section sanctioned games obviously, but the championship game, which will be held Tuesday, Nov. 21, at 66ers Stadium, will pull in just as much excitement as any CIF finals game, that’s for sure.

Murrieta Mesa players paid homage to Gina and Austin Gorrell by wearing purple shirts with the No. 20 on them, also honoring Julie Maestas, the school’s assistant Athletic Director that passed away earlier this year after losing her battle to cancer. Valley News/Furubotten Photography

At each host site there are tournament representatives that sell merchandise where all the proceeds go toward the Austin Gorrell Scholarship fund. And, at the championship game, slated for 6 p.m., the Gorrell family then disperses scholarship checks to seniors that were selected by submitting essays to the tournament committee, on why they deserve the scholarship.

“With the help of the teams who have participated in this annual event, as well as community sponsors and generous donations, we have been fortunate enough over the past eight years to award over $175,000 in scholarships, and we can’t wait to do it again this year,” Kerry Gorrell said. “This year includes an incredibly special scholarship that will be given by myself and my son Adam as we honor our beloved Gina. She was the backbone of this tournament.”

Other area high school teams competing this year included Chaparral, Heritage, Citrus Hill, Liberty, Temescal Canyon, Paloma Valley, and Murrieta Valley. By the end of the first day there were six area teams that moved on to the Gold Bracket with four of the six being from the Southwestern League: Great Oak, Murrieta Mesa, Murrieta Valley, and Vista Murrieta.

Vista Murrieta players shake hands with their opponents after winning their opening game of the 8th Annual Austin Gorrell Memorial Baseball Classic. Valley News/Action Captures Media Group

The Broncos and Nighthawks drew each other to kick off day 2 with Vista Murrieta grabbing the 5-4 win. The day wrapped up with Great Oak falling to Adelanto, 5-1, Murrieta Mesa defeated Damien, 13-0, helping them advance after their only game of the day, and the Broncos won their second game of the day by beating neighbors to the north in Norco, 13-11. Vista Murrieta would go up against King in their quarterfinal game.

Paloma Valley was also in the gold bracket and won their early morning game against Chino, 5-3, but fell to Centennial, 6-4, in the afternoon game. Murrieta Mesa would have to face Centennial in the quarterfinal round on their side of the bracket at home. Temescal Canyon was on the opposites side of the gold bracket, but the Titans fell 9-0 in their early game against Los Osos.

Citrus Hill, Chaparral, and Liberty, all found themselves in the Silver Bracket with the Pumas being the lone team to make their way to the quarterfinal round after defeating Ayala, 4-3. Chaparral will now travel to face Riverside Poly in their next game.

Rancho Verde, who were another terrific host site for the tournament, was the only other semi-local team that rounded out things in the Bronze Bracket. The Mustangs beat Ramona in their opening bracket game, but fell to Central Valley, 9-2, to end their run.

As mid-day hit on day three, Vista Murrieta powered past King, 9-1, to advance to the gold bracket semifinal game, as did Murrieta Mesa with a 2-1 win over Centennial on the other side of the bracket. The Broncos would face Los Osos, the Rams would take on Orange Lutheran, (playing as OC Lightning) in the semifinals. The two Southwestern League teams were on a collision course to potentially end up in the finals with one more game to play on Monday afternoon. The other remaining local team on day three was Chaparral, but they fell to Riverside Poly in their early game, bringing an end to their tournament in the silver bracket.

When the dust cleared at the end of bracket play, Vista Murrieta fell 8-1 and Murrieta Mesa dropped their shootout, 14-13. The gold bracket championship will go down between OLu and Los Osos at 66ers stadium on Tuesday, the silver bracket championship will take place Tuesday between Citrus Valley and Arlington (site and time TBD), and the bronze bracket championship went down Monday, Nov. 20, with Central Valley beating Riverside Prep, 4-3.

Updates on the final games of the tournament will be updated online as soon as scores come in. To find out more information about the event, visit www.austingorrellbaseballclassic.com. Donations to the tournament can be given to the Austin Gorrell Memorial Fund in memory of both Austin and Gina.

“Don’t take this game for granted. We blow it off like this game will never end for us some day. I have learned that it can happen.” – Austin Gorrell (Sept. 1, 2015)

JP Raineri can be reached by email at sports@reedermedia.com.

* A Great Oak photo gallery of their game vs. Heritage can be found for purchase from Time Stood Still Photography by clicking here.

* A Murrieta Mesa photo gallery, and Liberty photo gallery, can be found for purchase from Furubotten Photography by clicking here.