Harper’s walk-off homer leads Hemet
By Matt Jocks
HEMET » Grand Terrace left fielder Gilbert Aguilar drifted backward and drifted some more until he ran out of field. A moment later, Hemet players and coaches were pouring out of the dugout celebrating an electrifying end to an instant classic of a baseball playoff game.
Aaron Harper’s two-run walk-off home run, coming a half-inning after James Gomez’s go-ahead homer for Grand Terrace, lifted Hemet to a 4-3, eight-inning, victory in a Division 4 quarterfinal. Hemet (238-1) will play at Monrovia in Tuesday’s semifinal.
Harper’s high fly down the left-field line followed a leadoff single by Joel Mesa and a ground out. It triggered a wild celebration and plenty of emotion from his father, coach Mike Harper, who retreated back to the dugout to gather himself.
“That’s my son,” he said. “It was a proud papa moment.”
On the other side, Grand Terrace (28-3) was left stunned after it appeared they had wrested a spot in the semis on Gomez’s leadoff blast in the top of the eighth.
“Definitely a kick in the gut,” Grand Terrace coach Mike Reh said. “Just a rollercoaster of emotions. I’ll tell you, a game like that will make you never want to leave a baseball game early.”
The pitching matchup between standouts Clifford Brown of Hemet and Abel Madueno of Grand Terrace was as advertised, with each allowing a two-run inning but controlling the opposing lineup the rest of the way.
Madueno’s wicked curve ball had Hemet reaching all afternoon. He didn’t allow a hit until Hemet’s two-run fifth and finished with nine strikeouts.
“We just kept telling them to stay in there, not to bail out (on the curve),” Mike Harper said. “I told them eventually he would leave one up. It took eight innings, but he did.”
Aaron Harper might have been the chief recipient of the message, striking out his first two times against Madueno.
“It was the curve,” Aaron Harper said of the strikeouts. “I knew he was going to come back with it. He was doing it all day.”
Brown allowed six hits and showed resilience in the seventh, bouncing back from walking back-to-back batters — throwing just one strike in the process — to retire the final two batters of the inning and keep the Bulldogs even.
And with two hits in the eighth, the Bulldogs erased a day of frustration at the plate.
“Baseball is a failing man’s sport,” Mike Harper said. “You’re going to fail more than you succeed. The ones who stay focused and keep battling are the ones who succeed.”