La Costa Canyon outlasts Eastlake to win Lions Tournament in likely playoff preview

La Costa Canyon pitcher Max Collins
La Costa Canyon players surround pitcher Max Collins, center, after they defeated Eastlake 3-1 to win the Lions Tournament.
(Hayne Palmour IV/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

LCC senior pitcher/outfielder Caden Pearlman named MVP of 73rd annual event; winning it all ‘a big deal,’ he says


In a game involving two of the top teams in California, walks, missed opportunities and mystery calls by the three-man umpiring crew, a pair of defensive plays helped decide the Open Division championship of the 73rd annual Lions Baseball Tournament.

Trailing by two runs in the fifth inning and a runner on third base, Eastlake’s Noah Betanco hit a bolt to center, a sure base hit, if not a double.

But La Costa Canyon center fielder James Theodore had the ball lined up and made a sliding catch to save a run.

Daniel Mora started the Eastlake seventh with a liner to left. Again, a sure single — if not a leadoff double.

But LCC left fielder Jake Paul made a sliding catch in the alley, and pitcher Max Collins wiggled out of trouble as La Costa Canyon, ranked third in the county and ninth in the state by edged Eastlake, ranked first in the county and eighth in California, 3-1.

The win was the 12th in a row for LCC (12-1) after an opening-game loss to Granite Hills.

Eastlake (13-2) saw a seven-game win streak come to an end.

“I’ve been playing center field since I was in the eighth grade,” said Theodore, a senior who is headed to Webster University, an NCAA Division III program in St. Louis.

“The ball was hit hard, but I got a great read on it. I used my speed and experience to get to it. There was no doubt in my mind I was going to catch it.”

The Lions Tournament is a four-day, four-game marathon that eats up pitching staffs. Everyone typically gets a chance to pitch.

Gavin Barton, who had thrown 12 1/3 innings all season, started for LCC, allowing one run on four hits. He didn’t walk a batter, but hit four.

Junior Max Collins, who has thrown just seven innings this season, earned a save, hurling the final three innings, allowing two hits with three strikeouts.

“I thought I’d get into this game,” Collins said. “It was a big game, and it means a lot to win this, but I was calm, level-headed. I had a really good slider, was able to locate in and out. And my defense helped me.

“That catch in left field was huge.”

La Costa Canyon pitcher Gavin Barton tags Eastlake's Dereck Borruel
La Costa Canyon pitcher Gavin Barton tags Eastlake’s Dereck Borruel following a fourth-inning bunt attempt.
(Hayne Palmour IV/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The umpires were very much involved in the decision.

LCC catcher Kalen Applefield was ruled safe on a force play at second base in the second inning, but then was ruled out and thrown out of the game for making contact with Eastlake shortstop Isaiah Lane.

An inning later, the same umpire ruled Eastlake’s Donovan Nunes balked with a runner on third for going to his mouth, then his glove.

That gave LCC its first run.

Eastlake left 10 runners on base. It ended the second and fourth innings with the bases loaded.

“Tough loss,” said Eastlake coach Dave Gallegos. “Too many walks (eight by Titans’ pitchers), and we just couldn’t get that timely hit.

“We hit the ball hard, but couldn’t get a hit when we needed it.”

La Costa Canyon's Caden Pearlman hits an RBI single in the third inning of Thursday's win over Eastlake.
La Costa Canyon’s Caden Pearlman hits an RBI single in the third inning of Thursday’s win over Eastlake.
(Hayne Palmour IV/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

LCC senior Caden Pearlman was named MVP of the Open Division and was awarded an engraved bat.

Pearlman threw a complete-game, one-hit shutout against Santana in the first game of the tournament and had four hits in that game.

In four games, the pitcher/right fielder went 6-for-15 with four RBIs. He drove in one run Thursday against Eastlake.

“Winning the Lions Tournament, especially the Open Division, is a big deal,” Pearlman said. “That’s a really good team we beat.

“I’m betting it’s not the last time we’ll see them season. I imagine our paths will cross in the playoffs.”