Kalen Applefield’s homer lifts La Costa Canyon into CIF-San Diego Section Open Division final

Top-seeded Mavericks win behind solid pitching and a clutch homer, will play either Rancho Bernardo or Eastlake in Friday night’s Open Division final at Tony Gwynn Stadium


Locked in a scoreless tie with two outs in the fourth inning, Kalen Applefield got a first-pitch fastball and didn’t miss it, slugging a shot over the left-field fence.

Applefield’s home run gave top-seeded La Costa Canyon High School the lead and the Mavericks — thanks to great pitching and a two-run homer from Gabe Camacho — went on to beat Avocado League foe Carlsbad 3-0 to earn a berth in Friday night’s CIF-San Diego Section Open Division championship against either Rancho Bernardo or Eastlake at San Diego State.

Eastlake beat Rancho Bernardo 9-5 Tuesday to force an elimination game Wednesday for the right to meet LCC (23-6), the defending Open Division champion and a team ranked No. 7 in the state by MaxPreps.

“I almost feel bad,” said Applefield, a junior who had committed to play at San Diego State before switching to Cal.

“Scott De Jong (the Carlsbad coach) is a family friend. He lets me hit at his facility. I owe a lot of my success to him.”

Said De Jong: “You do what’s right for kids. I just wish we hadn’t thrown him a fastball down the pipe.”

Lefties Caden Pearlman of LCC and Carlsbad’s Ian Fisher had been locked in a pitcher’s duel before Applefield’s shot.

Pearlman went 5 1/3 innings, allowed three hits, didn’t walk a batter and struck out seven in running his record to 6-3 and lowering his ERA to 1.75.

Fisher allowed one run — Applefield’s homer — over five innings. He struck out four.

Cooper Walls came on in relief of Pearlman with two on and one out in the sixth. He got a strikeout and groundout to work out of the jam.

The Mavericks committed two infield errors in the seventh — their third and fourth of the game — but Walls wiggled out of a jam to pick up the save and lower his ERA to 0.97.

“I’ve been working really hard on my changeup, and the work is paying off,” said Pearlman, who is drawing major-college interest. “I was anxious to use it in the game, and it was working great today.

“I have a lot of natural run in my ball, so the change is another weapon.”

As for their win?

“We’re back in the championship game. That’s why you play the game,” he said. “This is a really tight group. It would be nice to go out as winners.”

Tuesday marked the fourth meeting of the season between LCC and Carlsbad. All four have been shutouts, with LCC winning three.

Carlsbad, 21-11 and seeded No. 5, had played one-run games in 17 of its last 22.

LCC’s shaky infield defense, however, almost handed the game to Carlsbad.

“Four errors is kind of frustrating,” said LCC coach Justin Machado. “But we made good pitches when we had to, so we didn’t get hurt.

“Honestly, our defense has been solid all season.

“We’ll take a few more ground balls in practice, and flush this game out of our system.

“This is a special group. I’m excited they get a chance to go back to the big game.”