FULLERTON — Irvine baseball Coach Bob Flint compares the single-elimination Southern Section baseball playoffs to a gambling spree in Las Vegas.
"You never know what's going to happen in one game . . . it's like throwing the dice in Vegas," Flint said.
If that's the case, Irvine hit the jackpot Friday in the quarterfinals of the 4-A division playoffs. The Vaqueros collected 16 hits, including three doubles and a home run, and defeated host Sunny Hills, 8-5.
The victory moved Irvine (19-10) into the semifinals Tuesday against Upland (20-6) at a site to be determined. Upland advanced with a 9-5 victory over Covina Northview.
Catcher Jason Minici led Irvine's attack with two singles and a double, and right fielder Scott Seal added a single and his seventh home run. Both played key roles in Irvine's drive to the Southern Section Division II football championship last fall.
"Five of these guys are CIF (Southern Section football) champions already, so anything we do in the playoffs is cake," Flint said. Asked about his team's chances of advancing to the championship game June 6 at Anaheim Stadium, Flint said, "I have no idea. I wasn't even sure if we could win today."
Irvine opened a 3-0 lead in the first inning, getting four hits off Sunny Hills starter Brian Volpp. The Vaqueros chased Volpp in the third inning, opening a 5-0 lead with eight hits.
"We had thrown some punches before they ever got to the plate," Flint said.
Sunny Hills (16-13) got back into the game in the fifth inning, scoring four runs off Irvine starter Tommie Louie. Designated hitter Steve Ashton opened the inning with his fourth homer of the season, and teammate Brian Dewispelaere added a two-run single for the Lancers.
But Irvine put the game out of reach with three runs in the seventh, which included Seal's towering home run to right to give Irvine a 6-4 lead. Louie, designated hitter Matt Rogers, first baseman Erik Sobek and Aron Garcia also got hits in the inning that left Sunny Hills reeling.
"That's the best hitting team we've played this season," said Sunny Hills Coach Doug Elliott. "We haven't given up 16 hits in a game all year. It was difficult getting down, 5-0, but we came back and were in the ballgame."
It was an offensive ballgame, but the most impressive performance on the field was turned in by Louie on the mound. He repeatedly battled Sunny Hills and benefited from two double plays before tiring in the seventh inning.
"Normally, a coach would have gotten him out of there in fifth when they scored four runs," Flint said. "But nobody on earth competes better than Tommie Louie. We got 16 hits today, and as it turned out, we needed them all."