Opening day for Corona del Mar High played out eerily similar to that final game at home a year ago.
"It had the same feeling," Brenden Hueston said.
The same standout pitcher started for the Sea Kings, on the same field, and once again, they found themselves falling behind early.
A blister gave Evan Larsen issues in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 3 playoffs last year. Rancho Alamitos stunned CdM, 7-5.
Two throwing errors and a passed ball in the third inning against Brea Olinda created problems for Larsen on Thursday.
What annoyed him more was what one player did after his blooper to left field went for a double and drove in two runs, giving the Wildcats a four-run lead. Sea Kings Coach John Emme said the hitter motioned afterward as if he had shot a bow and arrow.
"It didn't sit well with me one bit," Larsen said. "I made a good pitch. He didn't even square up on it and I let him know. It was disrespectful of him. It wasn't even a good hit."
Seeing that the hitter's act got under Larsen's skin, Emme calmed him down, wanting him to focus. Larsen, a Cal State Fullerton-bound senior, did just that, and CdM's offense rallied around the 6-foot-4 right-hander.
The Sea Kings came back, winning their first Foothill Division game in the Newport Elks Tournament, 8-5.
Larsen went the distance, striking out seven, while allowing four hits and no earned runs. He trailed until he came out for the top of the seventh, his team broke a 5-5 tie with a three-run sixth inning.
Hueston began the rally, getting onboard after a fielding error by second baseman Christian Hall. The Wildcats then had Hueston picked off, left-hander Zachary Ryan went to first, but Hueston took off for second.
"I was stealing on first move," Hueston said. "I saw him go over and I put my head down. I just ran as hard as I could to second base."
Hueston made it safely, and Robby Hurst followed that up with an infield single, putting runners on the corners for Donato Di Ferdinando. The No. 8 hitter did what CdM asked of him, getting the bunt down on a safety squeeze play.
It was a comebacker to the pitcher, but Hueston slid head first, going around the catcher and reaching for the plate with his left hand. He beat the tag and the Sea Kings took their first lead.
After JT Schwartz drew a bases-loaded walk and Nick Premer's infield single drove in a run, Larsen had more than enough support to finish off the Wildcats (2-1).
Larsen faced the top of the lineup in the seventh, striking out the No. 1 and 2 hitters looking. He then induced a groundout, using 14 pitches to get three outs, leaving him at 92 for the game, 69 of those went for strikes.
"He's a bulldog," said Emme, whose team continues tournament pool-play action at La Habra on Saturday at 11 a.m.
The Sea Kings, ranked No. 10 in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 preseason poll, backed up their ace in the top of the first inning.
They displayed some nice leather in the outfield. Hueston made a sliding shoestring catch in shallow center field, and one pitch later, Preston Hartsell, a sophomore committed to USC, snagged a hard-hit ball before running into the left-field fence.
Larsen retired the side in order, throwing seven pitches, all for strikes. Larsen mowed down the first two batters he saw in the second. The first one got on after Di Ferdinando, the catcher, couldn't keep the third strike in front of him, seeing it go to the backstop.
Larsen left the runner at first. He induced two straight ground balls, one resulting in a force out at second and the next in a groundout.
Brea Olinda's Connor Tousignant kept CdM in check early. He turned in 1-2-3 innings in the first and second, a stretch in which he struck out three.
The third inning proved problematic for both starters, more so for Larsen.
The game's first hit belonged to Brea Olinda's Chris Farias, who got onboard with a slow chopper to Schwartz at third base. Schwartz, a sophomore committed to UCLA, tried to make the throw to first, seeing it go way off the mark and Farias headed for second.
The error marked the first of two in a row for the Sea Kings. The next mistake came on a sacrifice bunt to Larsen, and he looked in trouble having to go to his right, toward third base to field it. Larsen threw it wildly to first, giving Premer at first base no chance at making the catch. The Wildcats scored, and they added three more runs in the third to go ahead, 4-0.
Two straight balls that didn't leave the infield, one on a bunt toward third and the next between first and second, helped load the bases for Brea Olinda. The visiting team cashed in, first on a passed ball and then on a two-run double to shallow left field by Malik Campbell.
"That kid just hit a little … blooper that Preston almost caught and they scored a couple of runs, and he acted like he'd, you know, hit it 400 feet," Emme said. "He just shot a bow and arrow, you know, again it's what the big leaguers are doing, but we can't get caught up in that stuff. That's part of the game that's transpired that I hate.
"We can't worry about what they do, and the best way to quiet a team down is [with] the scoreboard."
The Sea Kings responded in the bottom of the third. Hartsell smashed a two-out shot over center fielder Jose Ybarra's head, driving in a run with a triple. The throw to third got away, and Hartsell walked home to cut the deficit to 4-2.
Another error and another passed ball led to another run for Brea Olinda in the fourth.
The three-run lead didn't hold up. Premer led off the fourth with a single, Reece Berger, the freshman cleanup hitter, moved him over with a sacrifice bunt. Tousignant then plunked Alex Shadid, one of two batters he hit, and Hueston's single loaded the bases.
Two pitches later, Hurst, who went two for three, hit a ball to shortstop Tyler Becker, and it took a bad hop, going up toward his face and away from him. Two runs scored, making it a one-run game, and two batters later, Kevin McCarthy singled in Hueston to even things up at 5-5.
"Last year, the … CIF game we lost in the first round, I mean that was a pretty bitter … way to end the season," Hueston said. "I thought we had a lot more potential. I just thought of that [when we trailed Brea Olinda early] and we came back. I think that's a testament to how much we've changed since last year and we have gotten better."