RIVERSIDE -- Kiel Alcaraz had been away from baseball for close to seven years. He had strayed from the sport, gravitating instead toward football and track at Desert Christian of Lancaster.
Classmates begged Alcaraz to return to the diamond for one last hurrah. After all, he already had the skill set -- the power of football, the speed of track -- and he'd just need some fine tuning. Alcaraz eventually took head coach Dennis Shyrock up on his offer and, as it turned out, the decision paid off.
Alcaraz scored the winning run in Desert Christian's extra-innings win against Capistrano Valley Christian at UC Riverside on Saturday afternoon, guiding the Knights to their first CIF-Southern Section Division 6 baseball title. Alcaraz led off the eighth inning with a loud liner to the left-center field gap. That was the power of football. Next came the speed of track.
"I turned on the jets," Alcaraz said of his clutch triple.
Chance Gusbeth followed by lining a two-strike pitch to center for the go-ahead run. Fitting, if only because Gusbeth, a fellow running back, had been one of the main advocates in Alcaraz's ears after football season.
"It feels pretty good," Shyrock said. "It's a lot of pain and sweat that comes to even get to this game. It was two years ago that we were sitting outside."
Jared Nunez singled in Gusbeth for the two-run cushion, which reliever Justin Tition preserved in the bottom half of the frame. Capistrano Valley Christian had a chance to win in the seventh inning but stranded the bases loaded to send the game into extras.
Little-used sophomore Chris Bradley earned the victory, tossing 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief.
"It's hard to scout a guy that never pitches," Shyrock said.
Before his offensive heroics, Alcaraz made a saving play on the field, chasing down an extra-base hit in the Sport Complex's spacious grounds before firing the ball in to his cutoff man. The relay throw to the plate was in time and the score remained tied.
Capistrano Valley Christian, which only had three seniors on its roster, showed its youth at times. The Eagles made three outs at home plate, one at third base and a couple at second.
"We had opportunities. We were 90 feet away, but today wasn't our day," Capistrano Valley Christian coach Clemente Bonilla said. "I certainty hope this will do great things for our program. We were out in the quarterfinals in 2010 and 2011. I feel we're on the cusp."
Alcaraz homered in his first two at-bats of the season -- his first two at-bats since he was 11. Apparently, it was an indication of good things to come.