School from Rocklin that began in 2003 faced off against a school from Sacramento founded in 1937 with a ton of baseball tradition, but on Thursday night at Sacramento City College it was the young ones — also with a young roster — that came out top. Whitney of Rocklin won the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title with a 2-1 victory against McClatchy of Sacramento.
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It would have been fun looking up many of the past baseball championship teams and great players from McClatchy of Sacramento in the aftermath of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I final played on Thursday night at Sacramento City College’s Union Stadium. But all that history will have to wait as McClatchy fell short in a 2-1 loss to Whitney of Rocklin.
Instead, it will have to be a celebration of Whitney’s accomplishment of winning the program’s first-ever section title and an improbable ride to the top of the section’s leading bracket. It’s not that the Wildcats came out of nowhere — they did win the Sierra Foothill League title and were No. 2 seed — but they were in a field with so many recognized programs that have won multiple SJS titles in Division I, including Elk Grove, St. Mary’s of Stockton and Vacaville.
Franklin of Elk Grove was the No. 1 seed to begin the playoffs and had risen to No. 9 in the state not just for winning the Delta League title but also for being a semifinalist at the NorCal Boras Classic. Those Wildcats then lost in the semifinals (twice in a best-of-three series) to McClatchy, which then rose up in this week’s rankings to No. 14 with Whitney coming up to No. 17.
In next week’s rankings, Whitney (28-5) will be the one moving up. The Wildcats also will likely be hosting a CIF NorCal regional game on Tuesday, but exact division placement is dependent on the order of teams that the section provides to the CIF and then where the team is seeded according to competitive equity factors. Those pairings will be finalized and released on Sunday. The Lions fell to 28-4.
“I’m really speechless,” said Whitney head coach Jackson Watt only a minute or so after being doused with an ice bucket. “It’s unbelievable we were able to do this. We have such a really young team and will have a lot coming back.”
When the game got started, the focus clearly was on the pitching matchup as both Jace Gillmore of Whitney and Gabe Henderson of McClatchy came in with 10-0 records and with ERAs of 1.71 and 0.40, respectively.
It didn’t take long to see that Whitney’s batters were making stronger contact against Henderson than McClatchy’s batters were getting against Gillmore. Still, Henderson battled on every pitch and induced a double play in the bottom of the second inning.
The Wildcats broke through in the bottom of the third inning. A leadoff double by Luke Oyler was followed by a fielder’s choice, which brought up Tyler Allen, who singled up the middle to plate Oyler. With two outs, Shane Saunders then launched a drive over the left fielder’s head that caromed off the bottom of the fence. He could only get credited for a single, but Saunders was able to race around the bases and scored the second run of the game.
The big moment of the game for McClatchy came in the top of the sixth inning. As Henderson settled down after the third, the Wildcats would not score again. The inning began with a lead off single by Brandon Silva, but importantly it got things going with Henderson (also one of the team’s top hitters) and senior catcher Malcolm Moore about to come up. Jaylen Hodges then hit a bouncer up the middle that could have been a double play or it could have been an infield hit with everyone safe. Whitney’s Jax Gimenez grabbed the ball, looked to have stepped on second, then threw into the dirt at first base (in which the ball skipped past the first baseman). Umpires had to confer and ruled the runner was out at second but Hodges was sent to second due to the error. Henderson was the next batter and hit a grounder, but the throw again was in the dirt. That set it up for the Stanford-bound Moore to come up (last year’s State Junior of the Year). There was speculation that the Wildcats might walk him intentionally to load the bases, but they pitched to him. Moore just missed getting the big homer, but instead lined it to center field where it was caught for a sacrifice fly.
“When Malcolm came up, I knew I just had to make pitches,” Gillmore said. “It was just a sac fly and that really didn’t hurt at all.”
It could have hurt if McClatchy’s next batter got a big hit, but after a strong battle with several foul balls, Julian Carmona popped a fly ball to right for an out that ended the inning. McClatchy also got its leadoff batter on base in the bottom of the inning, but Gillmore got out of it with a pop up, fly ball and strikeout.
“We just came out and wanted to play as hard as we can,” added Gillmore, who finished with a four-hitter and should be available to start in Whitney’s first-round NorCal playoff game. “What a dream it was to be in this game. The place was packed and it was intense.”
Gillmore improved to 11-0. A junior, he’s also been among the team’s leaders in RBI. Oyler, who scored the first run, is a sophomore. Allen and Saunders are juniors as is Gavin McLendon, who tripled in the sixth inning with two outs and who is 9-0 as a pitcher. The team’s senior leader has been Dillon Castellanos, who leads the team in runs scored.
“The regionals has been such a new thing that we just haven’t been thinking about it,” Watt said. “We’ve just been focused on one day at a time.”
McClatchy, which last won a section title in 1998 in a victory over then Vallejo High star C.C. Sabathia and had the 1951 State Team of the Year, also will advance to the CIF NorCal regional playoffs. It’s unknown how much the CIF will go by head-to-head results (this is baseball where they are not as significant due to pitching matchups), but Sac-Joaquin D3 champion Del Campo does have a head-to-head win over the Lions from very early in the season and that could put them in the eight-team D2 bracket instead of D1.
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