La Costa Canyon’s batter had a fractured ankle, its pitcher was throwing with a torn labrum and its coach was trying to avoid a broken heart.
“The majority of games like these you’re giving that tough speech after a loss,’’ LCC coach Justin Machado said. “That was what made this so special.’’
Special and historic as LCC won its first Southern California Regional Division II title with a dramatic 1-0, nine-inning win over Long Beach Millikan on June 26.
Mark Prince delivered the game-winning hit, Cooper Dulich secured the final out and Machado has a regional championship to complement his three CIF-San Diego Section titles.
His decorated resume also includes four CIF runner-up designations, so Machado knows these tight games can go either way.
That’s with most teams. That wasn’t the case with his 2021 squad.
“What a way to go out as a senior,’’ designated hitter Grant Haferkamp said.
It was a memorable moment for the team’s 12 seniors, five of whom will continue playing in college. Throw in the fans who fought for space in the jammed bleachers, and few will forget this instant classic.
Two players go down in LCC lore for securing the banner. Or is it three? Four? Hard to say because this was a team effort.
Because of injuries, Machado had infielders playing in the outfield, outfielders playing infield, wide-eyed, junior varsity members filling in for the first time, many hoping to keep their lunch down.
Down-and-out were the Mavericks. Up-and-at-’em Machado kept barking.
“He gets all the credit,’’ Haferkamp said. “We struggled early in the season, but Skip was always there supporting us. He was telling us he knew the potential of the team and it paid off.’’
It’s not because Dulich bribed his doctor to get clearance to play. Earlier in the tournament, the steady shortstop dove for a grounder up the middle. The ball avoided his glove and his left shoulder neglected to find its way back into its socket, hanging instead by his ribs.
When LCC’s training staff couldn’t coax it back in, Grossmont Hospital was the next stop. When its stars couldn’t get the balky shoulder to comply, Dulich was sedated and four medical personnel twisted his body, with the fifth slamming his left arm back in place.
Dulich, who underwent surgery on Monday, was briefly idle. The day before the semifinal game he told Machado, “I’m playing tomorrow, Skip.’’
Machado laughed, asked for him to repeat that declaration and quickly grabbed his phone.
“His dad said the doctor told them he couldn’t do any more damage to it,’’ Machado said. “When he came back, he brought with him some swagger and our team responded.’’
If this sounds like the Padres and Fernarndo Tatis Jr., their star shortstop, you’re on script. Dulich’s surgeon brought it up and eventually the teenager brought home the exciting triumph.
“He was absolutely phenomenal,’’ Machado said.
Brennen Davis was absolutely cooked after snapping his ankle when hitting first base earlier in the game.
“It was his Kirk Gibson moment,’’ Machado said. “I asked him if he could still swing the bat.’’
A hobbling Davis was reinserted to hit in the ninth, with Machado knowing anything but a clean hit was nearly a guaranteed out. When Davis cued a slow roller to second and could barely exit the batter’s box, Machado was counting the first out.
“Then their second baseman threw it in our dugout,’’ Machado said.
Jack Maes pinch-ran for Davis and, two batters later, he was racing toward the plate on Prince’s walk-off double.
LCC flirted with danger in the inning’s top half when Millikan had runners at second and third with no outs. Machado’s closer is the right-handed Dulich, and he was open to finishing off Millikan.
A strikeout, pop-up and ground ball later, the Mavs’ tiptoe act was complete. Also credit catcher Braden Mazone for blocking pitches from reaching the backstop, with runners in scoring position.
“He was nails back there,’’ Machado said. “Nothing got past him.’’
Nothing can match those nine innings of nail-biting baseball for Machado.
It capped a remarkable season for the veteran coach, a year in which three LCC products appeared on the biggest of fields: Vanderbilt’s Spencer Jones advanced to the College World Series, outfielder Mickey Moniak made his debut with the Philadelphia Phillies and infielder Phillip Evans shined for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Machado, of course, doesn’t work alone. His assistants deserve a cap tip, too: Joey Burke, Jon Dutton, Jason Hill and Mark Paulsen.
“Skip almost got emotional,’’ Haferkamp said. “You could tell it meant a lot to him and his coaching staff.’’
It was a game with significance now and it will mean even more in the future.
“I can’t think of anything,’’ Machado said, “more special.’’