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It's Canyons on Stroke of Twelfth

Baseball: After forgettable game, Damwijk hits home run to remember and Cougars beat Saddleback, 9-8.


MISSION VIEJO — Until he stepped to the plate in the top of 12th inning Friday against Saddleback College, it had been largely a forgettable game for Canyons shortstop Hiram Damwijk.

He had only a walk in five plate appearances, including a called strikeout, and had thrown away a routine grounder in the sixth inning that contributed to two unearned runs.

But the sophomore got in the last lick, hitting a home run over the left-center field fence leading off the top of the 12th to give the Cougars a 9-8 victory in a second-round game of the Southern California Regional at Saddleback.

The Cougars (34-13), who have won eight consecutive games, meet Cuesta (40-8) today at 11 a.m. in an all-Western State Conference matchup. Canyons won the Southern Division and Cuesta, which defeated Grossmont, 12-9, on Friday, was the Northern Division champion.

The four-team, double-elimination tournament concludes Sunday. The winner advances to the state championships May 24-26 at Fresno.

Canyons slugged four home runs, including two by third baseman Luis Sanchez and one by left fielder Rob Rehfeld in the ninth that tied the score, 8-8, but it is Damwijk's blast that will be remembered.

"He struggled at the plate and then he clutches up," said Len Mohney, Canyons coach.

Damwijk connected on the first pitch by Kyle Kane (2-1), a hard-throwing right-hander who had held the Cougars in check since the ninth when Ryan Poe gave up Rehfeld's home run leading off the inning. It was Damwijk's 11th home run of the season.

"[Kane] was blowing hard but we knew what he was throwing," Damwijk said. "His slider wasn't working, so we just sat on his fastball."

Right-hander Brock Benson (4-2), the Cougar closer, worked four perfect innings and allowed two balls to be hit out of the infield.

"That's about as good [an outing] as I've had," Benson said.

After falling behind, 3-1, on Kirk Bolling's three-run home run in the third off starter Jim McNeel, the Cougars rallied with three runs in the fourth with the help of an error and a passed ball.

Sanchez's home run to left-center field to open the sixth put Canyons ahead, 5-3, but Saddleback tied the score, 5-5, with two runs in the bottom half.

The Gauchos (35-9) recaptured the lead, 8-5, with two runs in the seventh off McNeel and one off Wayne Mahaffey but Sanchez pulled Canyons to within 8-7 with his second home run.

Sanchez had four hits, including a double, and scored three runs. He has nine home runs this season.

"When he gets it going, he can carry you," Mohney said.

Canyons catcher Jesse Daggett had two hits to snap out of a one-for-nine slump in the playoffs, and Kris Yeaman and Jeremy Seipel each added two hits.

McNeel pitched the first 6 2/3 innings for Canyons, allowing seven runs (five earned) and seven hits while striking out two and walking three.

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