After experiencing the disappointment of losing in a Central Section baseball championship two years ago, Immanuel High’s Esteban Lizaola wasn’t about to let it happen again.
And the Cal State San Bernardino-bound senior right-hander certainly wasn’t coming out of the game once his team gained the lead in the top of the seventh inning Monday at Rawhide Ballpark.
So Lizaola struck out the side in the bottom of the seventh to cap second-seeded Immanuel’s 2-1 victory over top-seeded and defending champion Firebaugh in the Division IV final.
It was Immauel’s fifth section baseball title but the private Reedley school’s first since 2005.
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“It’s been a long time since we’ve done this,” said Lizaola, who pitched 2 1/3 innings of relief when Immanuel lost to Exeter 8-4 in the 2014 D-IV final. “Sophomore year, we just didn’t play how we wanted to. We left it at home. And today, we brought it. It was emotional. It was awesome.”
Lizaola definitely brought it in the seventh.
After striking out David Lopez and Anthony Molina swinging, he caught Marcel Espinoza looking at a third strike to set off a team dog pile behind the pitcher’s mound.
Lizaola had allowed seven hits while striking out 10 heading into the seventh and was admittedly wilting on a mid-80-degree morning.
I was getting tired, but I felt like this is my last game, I need to give it all I can. That’s what I wanted to go do, and that’s what I felt like I did.
Immanuel’s Esteban Lizaola, who struck out the side in the seventh to finish a 2-1 victory over Firebaugh for the Central Section Division IV championship
“I was getting tired, but I felt like this is my last game, I need to give it all I can,” Lizaola said. “That’s what I wanted to go do, and that’s what I felt like I did. Basically just pitch your arm off, give what you have.”
Immanuel coach Josh Franco had Carson Schellenberg (8-1, 1.19 ERA and owner of two no-hitters this season) ready in the bullpen, but Lizaola had no intention of turning the outcome over to anyone else.
“This was Esteban’s game,” Franco said. “He told me, ‘I’m going to win this game or lose this game, but don’t take me out,’ and he went out there and did his thing again. That’s what we’ve seen out of him. When he gets a lead, he gets very dangerous out there.”
Immanuel (25-6) gave Lizaola the lead in the top of the seventh on Hans Brown’s two-run single.
Pinch hitter Curtis McDonald opened the inning with a single and went to second when Caleb Paulson was hit by a pitch. Eli Crum popped up to the pitcher on a sacrifice attempt, but Lizaola reached to load the bases when his potential double-play grounder up the middle was mishandled by Firebaugh’s shortstop.
Brown then smacked a one-ball, two-strike curve from Firebaugh’s Brian Lopez into right field, scoring McDonald and Paulson.
“Going up, I was a little nervous, but I just had this feeling in my heart that that was the moment,” Brown said. “I’ll never forget that. It’s the best moment of my life.”
Going up I was a little nervous, but I just had this feeling in my heart that that was the moment. I’ll never forget that. It’s the best moment of my life.
Hans Brown, whose two-run single in the top of the seventh inning lifted Immanuel to a 2-1 win over Firebaugh for the Central Section Division IV baseball title
Firebaugh (26-4), which split two previous meetings with Immanuel this season, took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth as Michael Leyva ripped a one-out double and scored on Noey Garcia’s two-out single. And that seemed like it might be enough for Firebaugh with ace Lopez, who had 10 strikeouts, on the mound.
“Their guy, he’s great,” Franco said. “(Firebaugh) coach (Alex) Gutierrez and I are good friends. He’s done such a good job with that program. We knew they were going to be tough. There was no way this was going to be a blowout on either side. They were going to grind it out. We just capitalized on a mistake there. Any other day it could be flip-flopped. So hats off to them, for sure, but today we got the big hit when we needed it.”
Immanuel 2, Firebaugh 1
WP: Esteban Lizaola (10-0, 13Ks). LP: Brian Lopez (10-2, 10Ks). I, Lizaola 2-4, 2B; Hans Brown 1-4, 2RBI; Andrue Lackey 1-4l A.J. Pease 1-3, 2B; Carson Schellenberg 1-3; Curtis McDonald 1-1, R; Caleb Paulson 1-2, R. F, Tyler Palmer 1-3, 2B; Michael Leyva 1-3, 2B, R; Noey Garcia 2-2, RBI; Adrian Gutierrez 1-3; Marcel Espinoza 2-2.