Aaron Hicks opened and closed the CIF Semis for Wilson, a fitting showcase for the senior phenom who was featured in ESPN’s top draft prospects feature this week. In between Hicks’ first swing and last pitch, his teammates—especially starting pitcher Ray Hanson—gave a heck of a performance. Hanson, who made his first start since early March, went 6 strong innings, giving up just three hits and one earned run while striking out ten Norco Cougars.
Hicks got things started very early: with his first swing, he stroked a triple, then scored moments later on a wild pitch. Wes Hatton, Norco’s starting pitcher, struggled to get out of the inning, hitting two batters (including a devastating shot to the neck of a miraculously unharmed Jesse Vansickle) and giving up a pair of runs. Norco fired back with a run of their own in the bottom of the first, after a “pickle error” left a Cougar on second.
From there things quieted down, as both Hanson and Hatton pitched well. In the top of the fifth, the stingy Norco defense came unhinged, as two critical errors turned into three Wilson runs. Hatton walked the first batter, and hit the second. One out later, both runners stole to advance to second and third. Vansickle singled, and a throwing error at first sent two runners home. Then Vansickle scored from second after Cougars first baseman Matt Hobgood dropped the throw, turning a routine ground out into a triple for Bruins shortstop Cody Harris.
With a 5-1 lead going into the seventh, the Bruins were feeling good. Then Coach Andy Hall decided to put the dagger into the hearts of the Norco fans, by bringing Aaron Hicks out of centerfield to close out the last inning. Hicks, to the chagrin of the Wilson crowd, struggled with the first few batters. He walked the leadoff man as well as Hatton (whose arms must have been grateful to not have to swing after throwing over 120 pitches), then got Robert Castillo to ground out before watching as Hobgood redeemed himself with a double that brought in two runs—he finished with a great offensive performance, with three of Norco’s four hits, and three RBIs. Suddenly the lead was cut in half with only one out on the board, and Hicks had thrown three times as many balls as strikes. The Wilson crowd was nervous, and the Cougars fans bouncing on their hard plastic seats.
The pressure only intensified after Hicks walked another batter, bringing the winning run to the plate. Then Hicks did what he’s done all year: he won, after getting the final batter to ground into a double play that brought the Wilson fans to their feet and Hicks’ teammates onto the field. The 5-3 win sends Wilson to their second consecutive CIF Championship game. This year they’ll be meeting Simi Valley (who beat Mater Dei 6-5 after four extra innings in the early—make that early and late—game) at Dodger Stadium. The game is scheduled for this Friday at 7:30pm—come back later this week for a preview, as well as complete coverage of Wilson’s attempt to repeat as CIF champs.
For postgame interviews with Coach Andy Hall, starting pitcher Ray Hanson, and Aaron Hicks, click on the video above.