Granite Bay completes sweep of Tigers

Grizzlies move to section title game
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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Experience was a big part of the story Wednesday night inside Union Stadium at Sacramento City College. The Granite Bay High baseball team looked like a team that had been there before, while the youthful Roseville squad played a little like the new kids on the block. The Tigers came out with a huge dose of energy and scored two runs in the top half of the first inning, but once the Grizzlies answered with four of their own in the home half, some of that emotion fizzled. "These kids have played travel ball and been in big, but you get here in this atmosphere and our youth may have got us a little," said Roseville coach Hank DeMello. "Especially tonight, I thought our emotions might have overcome us a little bit." Granite Bay was not fazed by the early tallies, and as pitcher Josh Hall settled in and posted five straight zeroes after the second stanza, the offense took advantage of all of its chances to beat Roseville 9-3. The win sends the Grizzlies back to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship game for the third time in four years. "Roseville is young, but has a lot of talent," said Granite Bay coach Pat Esposito. "It certainly helps our guys that we have experience based on being here. Roseville has a great future and now that they have a taste of what this feels like, it really gives them something to work for." DeMello agreed that there was a big value for his team in getting to this round of the playoffs. "We went through a whole lot of battles last year and had a bunch of sophomores," DeMello said. "This year, that paid off and we learned this week that this level of play is a whole different ballgame than league. We had seen nothing like the energy we saw this week and now that we have tasted it we have a hunger for it." Matt Hack was hit by a pitch to open the game for Roseville, and after stealing second base, the senior left fielder eventually scored on a Dalton Blaser base hit. The Tigers added one more as senior shortstop John Silva reached on a fielder’s choice while Anthony Roberts came in to score. Blaser got the call on the mound for the Tigers, but the southpaw, who had missed his last couple of starts with an arm injury, was unable to close out Granite Bay hitters. One after another, the Grizzlies reached two-strike counts only to respond with great swings. "We came out hungry and got the two-spot," DeMello said. "Dalton really wanted the ball in the big game and I give it up to him for that. It turns out that his arm probably wasn't healthy enough to be out there with his best stuff." A lead-off single by shortstop Jake Riffice opened the game for Granite Bay. It was one of the senior’s four hits in the contest. Riffice was forced at second, but then Nate Esposito came in to score on Andrew Knapp’s double down the line in left field. The Grizzly catcher came across the plate while Roberts was throwing Jake Marjama out at first base after strike three to the senior first baseman bounced in the dirt. That run tied the game and emptied the bases, but Granite Bay was not done. Riley Drongesen singled, Andrew Wilson walked, and then Matt Gifford chased them both home with a double to the base of the wall in left-centerfield. Roseville responded well on offense itself, getting back-to-back doubles from Beau Smith and Hack after two were out in the second to pull back within one. Granite Bay was just too dialed in on this night, however, and the Tigers were just a little too off their game. Riffice singled with one out in the home half of the second, and Blaser had him picked off of first base for the second out. The only problem with that was that he broke for second and beat the throw to stay aboard and advance 90 feet. Roseville intentionally walked Esposito to set up the double play, but Knapp delivered a two-strike single to left to score Riffice and chase Blaser from the bump. Matt Maher took the ball with runners at second and third and just one out. He induced a pop-up to himself of the first pitch he threw and appeared ready to escape before consecutive walks plated another Granite Bay run and increased the score to 6-3. While Hall settled in, allowing two singles, to Tyler Ash and Smith, in the top of the fourth and then none the rest of the way, Maher pitched reasonably well himself, but with somewhat different results. The junior right-hander struck out three in the Granite Bay third, but the first, Braden Young, reached safely on a third-strike wild pitch and the moved to second on a throwing error on that same play. Riffice’s third hit in the first three innings scored Brock Kent, who was running for Young to add to the advantage. The Grizzlies scored one in the fifth on an RBI single by Drongesen and another in the sixth when Young doubled, moved to third on a throwing error and then scored on a wild pitch. For Roseville, it was a difficult ending to a successful season. A team made up of a few stalwart seniors combined with a large contingent of talented juniors and sophomores managed to finish third in the powerful Sierra Foothill League. In addition to being young, the Tigers had to battle through the absence of one of its top junior stars, Nick Blaser, who has been with the varsity since his junior year. With his meniscus tear healed, Nick Blaser did return for the postseason, bringing on another adjustment period for this team. The Tigers beat Rosemont in the opening round elimination game before being swept in two straight by their league rivals from Granite Bay, but DeMello knows the playoff experience will be invaluable for his team. Smith led Roseville offensively with two of its five hits. For Granite Bay, its waiting time as it looks ahead to the section title game set for 6 p.m. Monday at Sac City College. The SFL-champion Grizzlies (22-8) will get the winner of the series between SFL runner-up Rocklin and Sierra Valley Conference champion Oak Ridge. The Trojans, who lost to Rocklin in nine innings in game one, extended that three-gamer to a third contest with a 12-inning 2-1 win late Wednesday night. The series is scheduled for completion Thursday night, weather permitting, but it could end up with game three moved to Saturday afternoon. Riffice’s 4-for-5 night from the lead-off spot set the offensive tone for Granite Bay, and three of those knocks came in two-strike situations. Knapp, Drongesen and Gifford each had two hits as the Grizzlies banged out a dozen on the night. Hall was extremely efficient on the hill for Granite Bay, as he struck out just one Tiger, but tossed a five-hitter while throwing a minimal number of pitches. He had Roseville putting the ball in play and his defense was making plays behind him. "We were going with the same formula that got us here," Esposito said when asked if the schedule changes caused him to think about a different pitching rotation. "Coach (Tom) Gallagher is the cool and calm one around here and he was the one keeping us on track. Whichever way we go, we have three strong pitchers and we were confident with any of the three if we had to go Saturday and on into Monday from there." Granite Bay will hand the ball to ace right-hander Braden Young Monday night, and the Grizzlies will have their work cut out for them regardless which team they face. Rocklin would counter with dominant lefty Matt Fielding, while Oak Ridge would bring an impressive southpaw of its own in Kyle Porter. "In terms of who we play next, it doesn't matter much since either team will be throwing a strong left-hander at us," Esposito said. "I feel good knowing that we swing the bat pretty well." For Roseville it was the end of the run for a few solid seniors, with Hack, John Silva, Tyler Ash and Sam Vergara having played a prominent role this year. "Around here we have heard a lot of talk about our sophomores and juniors," DeMello said. "We have had some juniors step up as leaders on this team, but I think it's great for these seniors to experience this after accomplishing so much for this program. It's going to be hard to replace what they brought us."