Granite Hills wins CIF baseball championship

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For a coach, the walk from the dugout to the mound is long when a championship game is hanging in the balance. Up 4-2 in top of the ninth inning of the 2016 Division I CIF Baseball Championship, the Eagles infielders crowded around Granite Hills head coach James Davis as he called a meet up on the mound with closing pitcher Andrew Brown, keenly aware of the runner in scoring position and the two outs on the scoreboard.

For a coach, the walk from the dugout to the mound is long when a championship game is hanging in the balance. Up 4-2 in top of the ninth inning of the 2016 Division I CIF Baseball Championship, the Eagles infielders crowded around Granite Hills head coach James Davis as he called a meet up on the mound with closing pitcher Andrew Brown, keenly aware of the runner in scoring position and the two outs on the scoreboard.

“He told me I needed to calm down,” Brown said after the game. “To block out everybody in the crowd and just do what I do best.”

Quieting his mind of the hundreds of fans who filed into University of San Diego’s Fowler Park to cheer for Granite Hills and Vista High School, Brown regained his composure and closed out the inning without giving up another run, remaining, as he has been for much of the season, King of the Mound.

The championship game on June 3, was the culmination of a long season and a four-year journey for starting pitchers Brown and Dillan Shrum. Both senior hurlers wore jerseys when the Eagles won the 2014 CIF Championship, but Brown said he kept the bench warm that game.

“It was great to play on the field this time,” he said. “I’ve been battling for four years, this has been my dream all four years and we did it.”

Shrum pitched the first five innings of Friday’s championship and won the game for the Eagles. He said he could not have hoped for a better ending.

“It’s the second championship that I’ve won in my four years, and my third time playing a championship game,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a better way I could have gone out in my high school career.”

Granite Hills has a heavyweight offense with quick gloves like Trevor Omahen and Josh Verdon dominating the infield and Shrum and Brown taking turns at first. But pitching brought them to the championship, said Shrum, and having two stellar starters on the mound kept the bar raised all season.

“Our pitching has taken us a long way,” he said. “Brown and I helping win all those games definitely set our standards high for each other.”

Verdon agreed.

“We struggled a little bit to hit, but pitching was phenomenal all year,” he said. “You can win so many more ball games with good pitching.”

Verdon is more than the average glove himself. He was given the Sportsmanship Award during the postgame ceremony.

“It’s always good to win, but to know that people are seeing you play the game right is definitely an extra step up,” he said.

Granite Hills took an early lead in the game with a run in the bottom of the second and three more in the bottom of the third. Vista scored a run in the third and fourth but was no match for the Eagles’ defense. Shrum pitched a one-hitter and Brown cleaned up the last three innings cleanly, if not without some nerves.

Verdon may well have been the game’s MVP, keeping a tight lock on third base with a spectacular display of reflexes and intuition.

Catcher Jake Fenn made the final out of the game, tagging Vista runner Manny Ramirez as he tried sliding into home. 

Davis said he was proud of his boys.

“They battled through it all year long,” he said. “They overachieved and did great things.” 

This year’s successes Davis said he attributes to strong arms and solid hearts.

“We had two dominant pitchers,” he said, “and a lot of guts on our team.”

Both Shrum and Brown are lined up to play college ball in the fall, which will leave some big cleats for the Eagles to fill next season, but Davis said he is optimistic. 

“We’ve got a lot of boys coming back,” he said. “We’ll be missing a lot of seniors which is always key, but we always like to think that Granite Hills will be able to find other guys to come in and do the job.”

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