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Cuesta's Balbuena Keeps Saddleback in Check


MISSION VIEJO — Saddleback had 24 hits against Grossmont to reach Saturday's losers bracket finals of the Southern California Regional Playoffs against Cuesta. There, the Gauchos ran into starting pitcher Caleb Balbuena.

Balbuena limited the Gauchos to five hits as Cuesta defeated Saddleback, 11-2, to advance to today's championship final.

Balbuena (11-1) had a sizable lead by the time he threw his first pitch. Cuesta's Ryan Merkle led off the game with a single and moved to third on a double by Dustin Barnes. Merkle scored on a groundout and Barnes scored on a sacrifice fly for a 2-0 Cougar lead.

A single and a walk set up a three-run homer by Ryan Kaplanek for a 5-0 lead.

Saddleback (36-10) threatened to bounce back after Greg Ferrell hit a two-run homer to cut the lead to 5-2 at the end of the inning. But that was all the offense the Gauchos would muster.

Balbuena cruised from there, not allowing multiple baserunners again until the eighth inning, when Bolling reached first on a walk and Ferrell singled with two outs. A groundout to third baseman Vinnie Hernandez ended the inning.

"Balbuena gave a maximum effort on every pitch," Cuesta Coach Larry Lee said. "This is the best game I've seen him pitch all year."

Balbuena wasn't the only star of Saturday's victory. Kaplanek had four hits, two runs and five runs batted in for the Cougars.

Cuesta (41-9) will play College of the Canyons in the final at 11 a.m. today at Saddleback.

Canyons, which is eighth-seeded, defeated Cuesta, 8-5, Saturday in the winners bracket semifinals. The teams also split two regular-season games.

"I'm really proud of the way we played today after such a heart-breaking loss to Canyons in the morning," Lee said. "We need to put that behind us now and prepare for the rematch."

In an elimination game:

Saddleback 21, Grossmont 2--Ferrell had three hits, including a home run, and four RBIs for Saddleback in the losers bracket semifinal. Bolling had two doubles, a home run and two RBIs.

Mike Palumbo pitched five strong innings for the Gauchos, improving his record to 10-1.

Corrie Willkie was four for six with a double and three RBIs for Saddleback.

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