Inland Empire and Orange County: Riverside North 7, Esperanza 1

LOS ANGELES -- What a difference a year makes.

Better yet, what a difference two years makes.

Riverside North accomplished something baseball onlookers, avid and recreational alike, thought to be impossible with Friday night's 7-1 come-from-behind victory over Anaheim Esperanza in a Southern Section Division 1 title game at Dodger Stadium.

In the span of two short years, the Huskies -- somehow, someway -- transformed themselves from an underachieving 4-24 program in 2009 into champions in 2011.

“We've always had a good ball club, a dedicated group, we just had to be patient and wait for our turn to shine,'' North coach Steve Madril said. “I'm not sure if people thought that we were slouches, or soft, but this win proves that we belong, finally.''

Esperanza (23-11) jumped out to one-run lead in the first.

The Huskies (27-7), however, were resilient throughout.

Trailing by a run in the top of the fourth inning, North rallied. Steven Pena, Andrew Saucedo and Eddy Rodriguez reached base to start things off and then scored. A single by Juan DeLaCruz capped off the comeback and gave the Huskies their first lead of the game, 3-1.

Esperanza attempted to answer in the bottom of the fourth. Ryan Aguilar delivered a two-out single and appeared to be heading home for an easy run on a Ryan McCall base hit to center. Pena threw a strike from the outfield to nail Aguilar at the plate though. Inning over.

“I knew I wasn't going to hit my cut-off man, so I just did whatever it took to get the ball to home as fast as I could,'' Pena said. “As an outfielder, you don't like to be challenged by runners. I wanted to make them pay for trying to score on me, that's all.''

The Huskies weren't finished scoring, far from it, in fact. They chased Aztecs ace Austin Pettibone in the seventh inning. Justin Gheorge scored on a Adrian Anguiano single. With the bases loaded, Saucedo collected three RBIs on a double to left, extending the lead to 7-1.

The UC Santa Barbara-bound Pettibone was the more high-profile pitcher entering the game. None of that mattered to his counterpart, Evan Perez. He kept Esperanza off-balance from start to finish and ended up with a complete game five-hitter and seven strikeouts.

“I was up for the challenge today, we all were up for the challenge,'' Perez said. “We worked too hard to get to this point and lose. We wanted to win more than them.''

The Aztecs were aggressive on the base paths early on. Nick Catalano led off the game with a walk. Ryan Cooper followed with a drive into the right-field gap and Catalano hustled around to score from first base to give Esperanza a 1-0 lead in the top of the first.

Perez settled down immediately thereafter. The right-hander struck out the next three batters he faced, and ultimately, Cooper was left stranded at third base.

Perez ran into trouble in the bottom half of the third as well. With one out, the Aztecs had runners on first and second. Perez struck out Brandon Morones though. He induced a Mitch Christensen pop out to third base to thwart the rally as North trailed, 1-0.

“Sometimes, you have to fall before you can get up, that's what this team has done the last two years,'' Perez said. “Now we're champs, no one can take that from us.''