Dramatic comeback; Grizzlies topple Golden Eagles

Granite Bay and Del Oro put on a show in section semis
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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What began as a game with the feel of the most anticlimactic of contests ended with one of the most dramatic results in recent Sac-Joaquin Section baseball playoff memory, a come-from-behind 9-8 Granite Bay win. After dropping the first game Tuesday, game two in its best-of-three section semifinal series with Del Oro, the Granite Bay High baseball team had to come right back with its season on the line in a make-or-break battle with the Golden Eagles. The Grizzlies won the series opener on Monday in convincing fashion before the slate was evened by Del Oro’s 5-2 win in Tuesday’s first clash. After the early contest ended with the Grizzlies’ leading hitter, Andrew Knapp, striking out looking at a 3-2 pitch with the bags jammed, Granite Bay seemed to struggle to get its energy back for the nightcap. That struggle was evident in the disastrous way in which the game commenced. In the top of the first inning, the Grizzlies put two runners aboard, but both were essentially picked off of first base. Travis Israel, who had walked with two outs, managed to get around a tag at second base to avoid the out after he was picked by Del Oro starter Ben Consulo. The home half of the inning left Granite Bay and its fans in complete shock. Grizzly southpaw Brandon Wilkerson, who has struggled with a shoulder injury all season long, once again had trouble commanding the strike zone. The senior walked the Del Oro leadoff hitter, and then yielded a hit-and-run chopper over the infield to Trevor Thomas before hitting Matt Leak to load the bases. Wilkerson then hit Brian Rowe with a 1-2 pitch to force in a run and after recording a strikeout was touched up with a long blast to the gap by Mason Magleby that chased home all three base runners to put Del Oro ahead 4-0. After Wilkerson plunked the next hitter, the third of the inning, Granite Bay coach Pat Esposito had seen enough. “Wilkerson has been throwing great in the bullpen,” Esposito said. “With all of the pitching injuries we have had, we wanted to give him a shot out there. It just did not work out for him.” The biggest surprise may have been with the choice of the pitcher to replace the left-hander. Sean Sundberg got the call, after pitching just one inning the entire season. The junior right-hander inherited a jam and got little help in escaping. He allowed a run scoring single to the first batter he faced, and then juggled an attempted sacrifice bunt to jam the bags once again. After a pop fly on the infield resulted in the second out, another Granite Bay miscue left the door open as Leak banged a two-run single to cap off the scoring. The final first-inning tally – eight Del Oro runs on four hits and two Grizzly errors. “That start was unbelievable,” Esposito said. “We were shocked as we watched it happen. It was like it would never end.” Sundberg’s work on the bump became one of the main stories of the night. After he extricated himself from the nightmarish first, the designated hitter/outfielder tossed three shutout innings before giving way after walking the leadoff batter in the fifth. “We decided last night that we were probably going to have to use him (Sundberg) on the mound today,” Esposito said. “We have had so many problems with our pitchers and had to go with whoever is available.” The Grizzlies began to show signs of life in the top of the third inning, as they caught their breath and began to peck away at the huge deficit. “It was really quiet in here for a while,” Esposito said. “We have beaten these guys so many times before that we always believed we could come back, but the noise started to pick up after we scored a couple of runs.” Back-to-back two-out run-scoring hits by Sam Flajole and Travis Israel got Granite Bay on the scoreboard in the top of the third. The club added two more in the fourth with a little help from some sloppy Del Oro defense. With the bases loaded, Josh Hilburn hit a cue shot towards first base, and as Thomas attempted to feed the ball to his pitcher, the ball skipped away, allowing two runners to race home. With the margin sliced in half, the Grizzlies caught a break that continued the flow of momentum into their dugout. An apparent Max Magleby sacrifice fly that would have put Del Oro back on the board was wiped out after an appeal because Casey Cox had left early while tagging at third base. That mistake, on a ball deep enough to score Cox easily, seemed to further energize the Grizzlies, who answered with four runs in the fifth to even the score. Flajole, Israel and Knapp opened the inning with a trio of consecutive knocks, with Knapp’s hit scoring Flajole with the first run of the frame. After one man was out, Trevor Trinidad delivered in the clutch, ripping a two-run two-bagger down the left field line. The hit sent Del Oro manager Bret Lachemann to his bullpen as he called on Monday’s pitcher, Cole Perez to gut it out on just 24 hours rest. Granite Bay centerfielder Joe Mauro greeted the new hurler with a single to left field. Esposito was in the process of holding Trinidad at third until the ball came free from Leak’s glove in left field. That mistake proved costly for the Golden Eagles as it allowed the tying run to score. Sundberg’s successful stint on the hill was followed by an equally impressive performance by Israel, who pitched the final four innings, shutting out Del Oro, to pick up the win. “More than being concerned about being able to score runs, the bigger issue was being able to keep them at eight,” Esposito said. “They have a lot of hitters over there. I think the key was our ability to stop them from scoring.” After being betrayed somewhat by its defense in the first, it was that aspect of the game that made the comeback possible for Granite Bay. When Israel was moved to the bump, the call went out to reserve shortstop Jake Riffice, who entered the game cold off the bench to replace Israel in the field. With little playing time this season as a backup to the veteran senior, the junior, Riffice, came up huge with the leather. Immediately after entering the game, he took the throw from Knapp as Del Oro’s Ryan Xpoleous tried to swipe second base. The throw hit the ground short of the mark, but the young middle infielder dug it out cleanly and applied the tag to record a huge out. Riffice nearly stole a hit from the next hitter as he ranged far to his left to snare a bounding ball headed for center field. Flajole, the third baseman also made several strong defensive plays as the game headed down the stretch. With Perez pitching on adrenaline, and Israel quickly shaking off the rust that comes with having spent little time on the mound, the offenses were quieted the rest of the way, and the game went to extra innings. Facing the top third of the Granite Bay batting order in the eighth, Perez set down the first two hitters before Israel touched him with a single. The senior stole second base, and then Knapp walked before both advanced on a wild pitch to set the stage for Lydell Moseby. The Grizzly first baseman hit the ball hard to the backhand side of Del Oro shortstop Michael Schnell, but he was unable to pick it up cleanly. While Israel raced across the dish, Moseby dove into first base just ahead of the throw, extending the inning and putting Granite Bay on top for the first time all night long. Three walks and a suddenly tight strike zone made things interesting in the home half, but Riffice moved to his right to snare a Schnell ground ball with the bags juiced, and then gunned the ball to first ahead of the Del Oro shortstop to end the contest. As the Grizzlies celebrated near the pitcher’s mound, the Golden Eagle dugout sat in shocked silence. On this same field at Sacramento City College’s Union Stadium just one year ago, this Del Oro team lost the section title game on a walk-off home run by Ponderosa’s Casey Friederich. This loss, though one round earlier in the postseason run, may have hurt even more. “I am really proud of our guys,” Esposito said. “This team could have quit after that start, coming right after the way the first game ended, but we stayed with it.” Israel and Trinidad led the 11-hit attack with three knocks each, while Mauro and Flajole banged out two a piece. Granite Bay (21-10) will face the winner of the other semifinal series Monday night at 6 p.m. at Union Stadium. Ponderosa took game one of that best-of-three from Rocklin on Monday, and the series will conclude Thursday night. The Grizzlies beat Ponderosa convincingly in an early season matchup, but lost all three Sierra Foothill League battles with the Thunder. In Tuesday’s first game, Del Oro’s Mason Magleby delivered another strong pitching performance as he created the need for the decisive contest with an eight strikeout complete game. Six different Granite Bay batters had a hit in the game, but Magleby never allowed multiple hits in any inning. Schnell and Rowe each had two hits for the Golden Eagles in the opener, as Del Oro scored two in the sixth to break a 2-2 tie and then added some insurance in the top of the seventh.