The Coast News Group
Canyon Crest Academy baseball had a lot to celebrate this season, winning its first CIF title after getting no further than the semifinals in previous seasons. Photo by Steven Silva
Canyon Crest Academy baseball had a lot to celebrate this season, winning its first CIF title after getting no further than the semifinals in previous seasons. Photo by Steven Silva
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Canyon Crest wins school’s first CIF baseball title

SAN DIEGO — The Canyon Crest Academy varsity boys baseball team won its first-ever CIF San Diego Section Division 2 championship on May 27 after defeating Montgomery High 2-0 at Triton Ballpark in San Diego.

The Ravens’ championship victory wrapped up one of the best seasons in program history, including a division title and third-place overall finish in the Palomar League.

On Friday, Canyon Crest starting pitcher Sam Garewal threw a complete game, one-hit shutout against the Aztecs, while center fielder Marco Lombardi hit a two-run triple in the fourth inning for the only runs scored in the game.

Ravens coach Ryan Mikkonen spoke of the historical nature of his team’s accomplishment.

“We’d never been to the championship game, let alone won,” Mikkonen said. “We’d been to the semifinals two or three times. In 2018, we were one game away, so to get over the hump for the program was really cool. For me, the biggest thing was how many former players reached out that were happy for the program itself.

“Everyone was saying this was a long time coming and something that they had all been a part of and all kind of built, so how many people felt like they were a part of this was cool, it felt like they all had their footprint in it too, to get to where we are now.”

With 12 seniors on the team, Mikkonen talked about how the seniors instilled a winning culture in the clubhouse and set an example with their exceptional work ethic.

“For the seniors, this was reassurance that all their hard work and time and effort was worth it,” Mikkonen said. “You hear all the clichés about how hard work pays off, but to see the growth and where they started as freshmen, not only on the human side but also the educational and development side, and then to be rewarded by winning a championship was pretty cool for them.” 

For the Ravens, their championship season started in the team weight room during the offseason, the coach said.

“This year we took a big emphasis in the weight room,” Mikkonen said. “We’ve normally always done weight room stuff in the fall, but this year we continued lifting in the fall and winter. We incorporated that into our practices — we would practice on field, go into weight room after.

“This year we broke our school record for home runs in a season, we doubled it to 21, and that’s because kids bought into the weight room part of this, and we also led San Diego County in strikeouts for pitchers. Our pitchers struck out more guys than anyone in the county, so being bigger, stronger, and faster translated into shrinking the field and shrinking distance.”

Ravens starting pitcher and star slugger Zach Danon, who finished the season with a team-high .410 batting average, said a strong team culture was key to the Ravens’ success.

“You have an upperclassmen-heavy team, guys who have known each other a while, I mean I’ve played with some of these guys since we were 5 or 6 years old,” Danon said. “We’ve had a very solid pitching staff, we’ve been in some very close one-run or two-run games, and the pitching staff has kept us in those games,” Danon said.

The Ravens’ hitting was nothing short of impressive this year. Canyon Crest recorded an overall team batting average of .293 on the season, including 21 home runs, 44 doubles, 262 hits, 150 runs scored and 130 RBI — all well above the national averages.

“Our old pitching coach gave us the goal of 25 homers and we thought it was a joke and laughed it off, but we got pretty close to that and we have a team batting average of close to .300,” Danon said.

Mikkonen said that this year’s team was the most close-knit group he ever coached.

“Yeah, we’re around each other more than our own families,” Mikkonen said. “We work together, not just as a team, but as a program, and that’s a huge part of this.”