Ruben Cortez kept Lompoc baseball’s season alive – in the bottom of the seventh inning.
The junior chipped a line drive toward third base, which ricocheted off of the third baseman’s glove and drove in the winning run in Lompoc’s 4-3 home playoff win over Carpinteria in the CIF Southern Section Division 5 wild card round on Tuesday.
Jesse Gasca scored the game-clinching run for Lompoc off of Cortez’s grounder. The Braves will now travel to La Canada on Thursday for their 3:15 p.m. first-round match-up.
After the walk-off win, the Braves’ dugout cleared and euphoria was let loose by the victorious team – as Braves players immediately embraced Cortez.
“It was an inside fastball. I just turned on it, got it in play, hit it hard and took the shot to third. The rest was pretty much history,” Cortez said.
That extra inning was set up by Justin Allen, after he hit a ground ball that stayed in the infield dirt and dashed to first base and was ruled safe by the first-base umpire, igniting the Braves’ dugout as they faced a 3-2 deficit.
Gasca, who earned the win after his complete game, drew a walk to put runners on first and second. Then, Jeffrey Ray reached base after Carpinteria's second baseman committed an error, allowing Allen to take advantage of the miscue and sprint home to tie the score at 3-3.
Allen, who is one of the three leading hitting options for the Braves, said his team wasn’t fazed by the late deficit – since he was reminded that Lompoc was in this position recently during the sweep of Cabrillo last week.
“We knew that we had it in us,” Allen said. “We came back two times against Cabrillo and we just had to stay in the game plus get the right guys up there.”
The Braves actually never led throughout the playoff opener at Dan Bodary Field. The Warriors immediately got on the board in the top of the first inning off of an RBI from Tony Vega.
Lompoc got its first run from Alejandro Salas, as his RBI single plated Cortez to tie things at 1-1. Then in the top of the fourth, Carpinteria's Albert Hugo pounded his RBI that brought Toby Spach to home plate, making it 2-1 in favor of the Warriors.
After two major blasts were caught by Carpinteria outfielders, Conner Hayes made sure that the third time wasn’t the charm – as his power swing sent the ball bouncing to the center field fence, tying the game at 2-2 off of his RBI.
Carpinteria's David Martinez then placed his team back in the lead with his double that scored Noah Nuno in the top of the seventh. But then the Braves kept their season alive with their two-run rally.
Head coach Jim Allen said he wasn’t surprised by how competitive Carpinteria was for seven consecutive innings.
“Carpinteria is always good,” Allen said. “They play great fundamental baseball and they played great fundamental ball today. We were just able to, at the end, take advantage of their mistake at second base. Then Ruben came up and hit the ball hard – making a tough play on that third baseman.”
Allen added that he’s no stranger to La Canada head coach Matt Whisenant, who is in his first year with the Spartans but once built Sun Valley Village Christian into a perennial baseball power.
“I’ve faced their coach four times in the last six years when he was at Village Christian. They’re going to be a good, fundamental team,” Allen said.
As for Cortez, he said the Braves have no desire to turn in their baseball uniform to the equipment manager just yet.
“We all have fight and we all have the same drive,” Cortez said. “We have the same motives to get it done. We just want to keep the season going. We accomplished that with that last inning.”