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Mt. Whitney takes loss in Division II title game for second year in a row

1:00 AM, Jun. 13, 2012 EDT

Mt. Whitney's Kyle McAlister, No. 8, reacts as Edison celebrates winning the Central Section Division II championship on Thursday. Edison won 6-2. Joe Vasquez

FRESNO -- Before the 2012 baseball season started, the Mt. Whitney baseball team set the goal of returning to the Central Section Division II championship game.

The Pioneers returned six seniors who tasted defeat in the 2011 Division II championship game, losing 14-3 to Frontier.

On Thursday afternoon, the Pioneers found themselves just one win away from avenging last season's championship loss.

But Edison had different ideas. The Tigers were looking to avenge a loss of its own to Mt. Whitney in last season's semifinal.

No. 6 Edison avenged that loss by defeating the No. 8-seeded Pioneers 6-2 to win its second Central Section championship in four seasons.

"My hat's off to them," Mt. Whitney coach Ryan Miller said. "Their guy pitched great, they played good defense and got timely hitting. They played better than us."

It was an emotional loss for the Pioneers and for starting pitcher Brenden Garcia.

Garcia, who had been dominant down the stretch for the Pioneers, never could get into a rhythm on the mound.

He went four-plus innings, giving up five runs on four hits and four walks.

"I wish I could've done better for these guys," Garcia said. "I did my best all year, and I just wish I could've been better today. Sometimes you just don't have it. It was a good game, but they flat-out beat us."

Miller said Garcia and the rest of the team had nothing to hang their heads about.

"This year, we were in the game," Miller said. "Last year, we got blown out early and we battled until the end. They battled this year, but we came up short. That's the way it goes. They should be proud and keep their heads up."

Garcia was one of the main reasons the Pioneers reached the championship game, posting a batting average of .350 and a 1.28 earned run average in 71 1-3 innings of work.

Garcia was disappointed by the outcome of the game, but understands there are lessons to be learned from it.

"There's always improvements to be made," said Garcia, who will be pitching at Cal State East-Bay next season. "You're never perfect. There is always something to improve on. I hope to get another shot in a championship game and get that opportunity to perform better."

The big blow to the Pioneers came with Garcia standing in right field.

After loading the bases with nobody in the fifth inning, Miller turned to relief pitcher Tucker Mendonca.

Mendonca came in and forced Khari McGee to hit into and infield fly for the first out, but walked Anthony Ward to force in a run to give Edison a 3-2 lead. After striking out John Corey, Mendonca put the Pioneers in position to get out of the jam with minimal damage.

But Edison's No. 8 hitter Treshon Holly blasted a three-run triple off the centerfield fence to give the Tigers a 6-2 lead.

The four-run lead was more than enough for McGee, who started on the mound for the Tigers. McGee, a top football recruit as a quarterback for the Tigers, who stands at 6-foot-4 and weighs over 200 pounds, went 6 1-3 innings to pick up the victory. He gave up two unearned runs on five hits and struck out seven.

"We knew they liked fastballs so we thought why not test them and see if they can hit them," McGee said.

The gameplan worked for McGee. He recorded strikeouts on six of the first nine outs and had his seventh strikeout by the fourth inning.

Mt. Whitney started to catch up to McGee's fastball, but could only produce two runs in the fourth inning.

With two outs in the fourth, Gaige Chacon hit a slow ground ball down the third base line that ate up the Edison third baseman and allowed Kyle McAlister to score, and Dominic Forner drove in Tucker Mendonca with an RBI-double.

The Pioneers went down quietly in the fifth and sixth innings before forcing Edison coach Cliff Rold to pull McGee in the seventh.

With runners on first and second, Rold turned to Deondre Howard, who pitched six innings in Tuesday's victory.

Howard ended the game by forcing Rory French to fly out to right field and striking out Ryan Guajardo for the final out of the game.

After that, the celebration was on for the Tigers -- a team that finished with a 15-20 overall record but won six straight games to end the season.

"It starts with not only the players, but the coaches who stayed on us," McGee said. "Nobody ever said we couldn't do it. That's what it takes to win a Valley championship. You can't ever think the season is over."

The Pioneers, who last won a Valley title in 2008, finished an up-and-down season with a 16-16 record.

"These kids battled and battled," Miller said. "It would have been nice for them to get this one."

Even though the Pioneers came up short of their ultimate goal, Garcia was still proud of his team.

"This team's unbelievable," he said. "I love these guys to death. We're a team, a family. From Day 1, we said we had unfinished business in the championship game. We got to where we needed, unfortunately we came up a little short, but we have nothing to hang our heads about."




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