La Costa Canyon makes it a 3-game sweep of Eastlake, advances to SoCal finals

La Costa Canyon coach Justin Machado
La Costa Canyon coach Justin Machado, shown at a game earlier this season, will lead his team into Saturday’s Division 1 Southern California regional final.
(Hayne Palmour IV/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Eight-run first inning stuns visitors, propels Mavericks to Saturday’s Division I regional championship game against Santa Margarita


The La Costa Canyon and Eastlake High School baseball teams have played each other three times this season, each time with more on the line.

First, there was the championship game of the top bracket of the Lions Tournament, won by LCC.

On Saturday, May 27, the Mavericks bested Eastlake to win the CIF San Diego Section Open Division championship before a full house at San Diego State’s Tony Gwynn Stadium.

Finally, on Thursday, June 1, LCC made it a three-game sweep, beating the Titans 11-5 in the Division I semifinals of the Southern California Regional Playoffs before a sold out crowd at LCC.

The victory earns the No. 2-seeded Mavericks (26-6) a spot in Saturday’s June 3 championship game at No. 1-seeded Santa Margarita, which got one hit Thursday, June 1 — a two-run homer — to beat Rancho Bernardo 2-0.

“To win the Open Division, then play for a SoCal title is really incredible,” said LCC coach Justin Machado. “I have a great group of seniors, one of the better senior groups I’ve ever had. They work hard, never stop grinding, set a great example.”

Fittingly, it was senior center fielder James Theodore who got the Mavericks started in an eight-run first inning.

Theodore singled to start the bottom of the first and scored on Kalen Applefield’s bases-loaded single.

The Mavericks sent 12 batters to the plate in the first, drawing a walk and banging out eight hits.

Brady Petit drove in two runs, No. 9-hitter Matt Pueschel, a senior, drove in two with two out and made the score 5-0, Theodore — hitting for the second time in the inning — drove in one, and Gabe Camacho finished it with a two-RBI double.

“My job as the leadoff hitter is to give the team a lift,” said Theodore, who singled and scored in the first inning Tuesday, May 30, as the Mavericks knocked off Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, the top-ranked team in the state.

“I’m looking for the first pitch, and if it’s in the zone, I’m swinging. Eastlake is a good team, but we came out with a lot more energy today than Tuesday.”

Pueschel was 4 for 4 with four singles, scored three times and drove in two.

“It’s a lot easier for me when the guys in front have already given us a lead,” Pueschel said. “Our deal is to pass the torch, trust the next guy. We know Eastlake very well, and respect them. That’s a good team, but we were ready.”

LCC banged out 15 hits and drew three walks.

Seven players scored and eight of the nine starters reached base with Theodore, Camacho, Pueschel, Petit and Nolan Farley having multi-hit games. Plus, Jacob Paul walked three times.

“You can’t give up eight runs in the first inning and expect to win,” said Eastlake (21-6) coach Dave Gallegos. “The kid we planned to start came up with a sore arm. So we tried to piece it together. Just didn’t work. We battled, didn’t roll over.”

Stunner Gonzales, who was the winning pitcher in the Open Division championship game, went four innings and was the winner Thursday.

Max Collins worked the final three innings, allowing one run on one hit, striking out five to earn the save.

Now the task is to beat Santa Margarita on Saturday in a game scheduled for 4 p.m. It could be moved up, but LCC graduates Friday and the seniors have Grad Night, which could last into the wee hours of the morning.

“We’ll be ready,” Theodore said. “We’ll be ready to represent San Diego. We want to show the state what kind of program we have at LCC.”