On a team that hit 42 home runs in 28 games and had the reputation as one of the best hitting teams in Southern California, Thousand Oaks High turned to its least intimidating hitter, Peyton Miller, to come through in the decisive moment Saturday in the Southern Section Division 2 championship game at Cal State Fullerton.
"He doesn't crack under pressure," shortstop Max Muncy said if the team's No. 9 hitter in the order.
Thousand Oaks was down by a run with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning and opportunities were dwindling against Mission Viejo Trabuco Hills left-hander Mason Molina. With two strikes, Miller stroked a single to left field. Roc Riggio was then hit by a pitch. An Easton Rulli pop fly fell between the shortstop and left fielder, allowing the tying run to score. Then a wild pitch scored Riggio for the go-ahead run.
Thousand Oaks (29-1) came away with a 3-2 victory, ending the five-year coaching reign of former major leaguer Jack Wilson with a section championship.
"As a coach, it's even more special than I did as a player," Wilson said. "My heart is filled with joy."
The Lancers placed their confidence in Miller, batting .250, to ignite their rally.
"The guy has velo, but I was looking fastball and trying to adjust and sure enough, he gave me a fastball," Miller said. "My coach puts me in the nine hole because I get on. My on-base percentage is through the roof. I foul off pitches, I work for walks. I'm just trying to do it for my team."
Molina, a Texas Tech signee, struck out nine and gave up four hits. Thousand Oaks received a strong pitching performance from Myles Weiss, who struck out six, walked one and gave up one earned run.
Simi Valley Royal won its first title in school history. It was also the first in Dan Maye's 33 years as a coach. The Highlanders made a three-run double in the third inning by Luke Piazza stand up in a 3-2 victory over Rancho Cucamonga.
Jacob Brown of Rancho Cucamonga hit a solo home run over the fence in left-center field in the sixth, cutting the deficit to 3-2, and the Cougars turned up the pressure in the seventh when the leadoff batter was hit. But that's when Maye went to his ace, sophomore Trevor Hansen, out of the bullpen.
"We can't leave one of our best guys in the bullpen," Maye said.
Hansen got two outs on two pitches, then induced the final out on a forceout at second.
"It was one of the best feelings ever," Hansen said.
Royal (23-4) was saved repeatedly by its defense, including second baseman Joshua Busby catching a two-out line drive with the bases loaded in the fifth.
Pitchers Riley Feigenbaum and Matt O'Brien survived constant challenges to be able to hand the ball over to Hansen, who was 10-2 this season.
La Habra took advantage of six errors and strong pitching from Josh Castillo to defeat Elsinore 8-3 to win the Division 6 championship. Matt Flores, Jesse Lopez and Adrian Diaz each had two hits.
The biggest challenge for the Highlanders came earlier in the week during a heat wave when their Tuesday semifinal game at Barstow was postponed. They ended up going by bus in the evening, staying at a hotel overnight and winning 14-3 on Wednesday morning.
"It was an amazing experience with my teammates," Diaz said.
There was a 1-hour, 10-minute power outage at Cal State Fullerton, with the scoreboard and public address system unavailable.
Division 2 softball
In a dramatic end to a great pitching duel, catcher Emily Capobianco hit a walk-off home run in the ninth inning off Gatorade state player of the year Sydney Somerndike to give Upland a 1-0 win over Villa Park in the Southern Section Division 2 softball final in Irvine.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.