STEVENSON RANCH – West Ranch freshman second baseman Jagger Rusconi played five of the roughest innings of his young high school baseball career in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs against top-seeded Orange Lutheran.
He took a hard ground ball off his knee playing defense. He fouled a ball of his other knee in one of his at-bats. It’s safe to say he was pretty banged up when he came to the plate in the bottom of the sixth inning.
With West Ranch down by a run, Rusconi hit a bases-loaded, ground-rule double that scored two runs and gave his team the lead. The Wildcats went on to win, 5-4, and eliminated Orange Lutheran, ranked No. 4 in the nation by ESPN HS, from the Division 1 playoffs.
“He’s never acted like a freshman this year,” West Ranch coach Casey Burrill said. “We’ve never felt that way. Every time he comes to the plate, we think he’s going to put the barrel on the ball and hit something hard. With the bunch of curveballs they were throwing him, we all in the dugout thought they’re going to hang one and he is going to absolutely crush it. That’s exactly what happened. He does not play baseball like a freshman.”
Rusconi’s two-run double gave West Ranch its first lead of the game. Orange Lutheran had leads of 1-0 and 3-1, but West Ranch came back each time to tie the score. Orange Lutheran starter Art Moran-Vidrio fell victim to four errors and gave up only one earned run on seven hits.
“I think what happened today is a tribute to West Ranch’s hitters doing a great job,” Orange Lutheran coach Eric Borba said. “They took advantage of any mistake Art made. They never made it easy on him and made him throw a lot of pitches. They’re hitters deserve the credit. I think Art had some of the best stuff he’s had all year.”
Orange Lutheran broke a 3-3 tie in the top of the sixth inning. Dalton Frize drove in Travis Blue with a two-out single. But Frize was thrown out at second to end the inning.
West Ranch starter JC Cloney pitched 5 1/3 innings and gave up four runs on six hits. He struck out seven and walked five.
“I think JC will be the first one to tell you he didn’t have his best stuff today,” Burrill said. “He couldn’t go to some pitches he was able to go to in the past. After giving up three runs and us being down, he put up some zeros. He kept us in this game so we could have this ending.”
Rusconi’s two-run double scored Justin Hovis, who led off the inning with a ground-rule double, and JD Krauskopf.
Tyler Woldanski hit a solo home run for West Ranch to lead off the fourth inning.
Josh Morgan was 2-for-3 with a double, an RBI and scored two runs for Orange Lutheran.
West Ranch plays Corona in the semifinals of the Division 1 playoffs on Tuesday. Corona, a wild-card team, beat El Dorado, 7-4, to reach the semifinals.