The Spartans came from behind with two runs in the seventh to get a tie and won it in the ninth, 9-6, over Foothill of Pleasanton in CIF North Coast Section Division 1 final. They’ve now won five section titles in a row and kept the streak going after a two-year break due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Go inside to see where five straight section titles in baseball now ranks on the all-time state list.
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Due to a flawed CIF North Coast Section bylaw, there was a good chance if the De La Salle of Concord baseball team had not won in Friday’s Division I championship at Foothill of Pleasanton that it could have been left out of the upcoming CIF Northern California baseball playoffs (which hasn’t happened for 100 years).
But head coach David Jeans’ boys never gave up in their matchup with the Falcons, who had come up to No. 3 in the state this week and improved to 25-4 with a huge comeback win themselves in the semifinals on Wednesday against California of San Ramon. De La Salle won it, 9-6, with two extra innings required.
So instead of perhaps not making it into the NorCal lineup next week at all, De La Salle (24-6 & No. 10 in state) may now perhaps make a case to be the top seed. This is dependent on what happens in Saturday’s CIF Central Coast Section Division I final between St. Francis of Mountain View and Palo Alto, but if St. Francis wins even though the Lancers (No. 1 in state at 28-4) have been ranked higher than the Spartans in recent weeks there is a head-to-head win that De La Salle owns over St. Francis from early in the season.
“Yes, we knew that this could have been our last game,” said junior outfielder Kai Smith, who was credited with a game-tying RBI in the top of the seventh on a high chopper that was beaten out for a hit and then in the ninth he crushed a two-run homer to cap a three-run rally that would end up winning the game. “But we trust in each other. We knew we’ve been there before.”
In those bylaws, unlike every other major CIF section in the state which simply lets its top four teams or top two teams in its top playoff divisions advance to the regional playoffs, the North Coast has it set up to read that the teams it will send to the regionals will be its six championship teams then the next three teams from among a group of its next highest seeded finalists. De La Salle was in serious trouble according to that rule since it was a No. 3 seed in Division I compared to projected higher seeds from the other divisions also losing in a section final. It doesn’t matter in the NCS that it’s D1 compared to D5 or D6, it’s only the seeding that counts. De La Salle, for example, would have been bypassed by D5 No. 1 seed Berean Christian (18-10) if it had not won on Friday. Berean lost in its D5 final, 3-1, to 14-12 Branson of Ross.
Jeans was telling his players during the post-game awards ceremony to be respectful of Foothill’s players and coaches because he knows there is a possibility that with the NorCal playoffs that it’s a team the Spartans very well could be playing again. As a No. 1 seed that lost in a final, the Falcons are not and were not in the same situation as De La Salle in terms of not getting into the NorCal playoffs by losing on Friday. They’ll be in.
“I just told the guys in the last couple of days that no matter what happens that they can walk away this season like every other championship De La Salle baseball player has done,” he said. “They got the win and now we don’t have to worry about it.”
This year’s group also was playing with thoughts of De La Salle teams from 2020 and 2021, which did not get the chance to improve upon the program’s recent run of NCS titles since there were no playoffs due to COVID. When the 2019 squad won the NCS D1 title, that was its fourth in a row. The streak has now re-booted and is now up to five.
With the fifth straight section title, De La Salle also moves into a tie for third on the all-time state list (according to Cal-Hi Sports) for most consecutive section titles in baseball. The Spartans are tied with Woodlake (1953-1957) and Winters (2015-2019) and only trail Central Catholic of Modesto, which won 10 in a row in the Sac-Joaquin Section from 2000 to 2009, and Sutter (six in a row in the Northern Section from 2012 to 2017). Winters had a chance to win its fifth in a row this season as well in a continuation from 2016 to 2019 but lost in in its section final last week to unbeaten Colusa.
A Foothill state record possibility also had to be checked out at the conclusion of the game as junior pitcher Tyler Gebb was looking to be in line to pick up his 15th win of the year. In the end, Gebb had a no decision and will still be 14-1 heading into the NorCal D1 playoffs.
Gebb already has surpassed Foothill’s school record for wins in a season of 12 held by former MLB pitcher Brad Bergesen. If he had been 15-0, he would have gained a state record listing. For wins, it still takes 18 for the state list and there is an unbreakable record of 30 set in 1909 by Eddie French of San Francisco Sacred Heart still on the books from old rules that no longer exist. Still, 14-1 from a school with the competition that Foothill plays is very impressive.
“That’s how he’s been all year,” said Foothill head coach Angelo Scavone, who had to miss the last few innings of the game after being ejected for arguing a balk call. “You’ve got to tip your cap to De La Salle because they found a way. We had some chances and as a group we battled to the end.”
Foothill built a 4-0 lead in the first three innings, which got started on an RBI double in the first by Evan Bilter, who then scored on a sacrifice fly by Tyler Tarpley. Jack Basseer, recently named MVP of the East Bay Athletic League, added an RBI single in the second, while Nate Novitske added an RBI single in the third.
De La Salle got back into it with a three-run outburst in the top of the fourth inning. The first of those runs came home on the first of three balks that were called against Foothill’s pitchers. The other two came in on a two-out triple by Elias Rubio that just got under the glove of a diving attempt by a Foothill outfielder.
Foothill took a 5-3 lead in the bottom of the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Bilter and was leading 6-4 heading to the top of the seventh. Its sixth run came in on another sacrifice fly (hit by Brendan Comerford) while De La Salle’s fourth scored on a double by Donovan Chriss.
Chandler Smith walked to lead off De La Salle’s seventh inning rally. He went to second on a sacrifice bunt, then went to third on a hard-hit single by Tanner Griffith. That brought up the team’s new school record home run hitter, Anthony Martinez. He didn’t hit a three-run homer (which would have been his 10th of the season), but he did hit a fly ball to right that scored Smith. With two outs, Cade Cushing kept the season alive with a single and then there was a walk earned by Conner Harrison that loaded the bases. Smith was the next batter and faced Comerford on the mound for Foothill. He hit a high bouncer up the middle that seemed to take too long to come down and by the time it did it was too late and the tying run had scored with a late throw to first.
Sam Sitzman came in to pitch for De La Salle in the sixth inning for starter Cal Randall, who limited some of the damage in the early innings. He pitched a scoreless bottom of the seventh and a scoreless bottom of the eighth.
Martinez got the game-winning rally started with a leadoff single in the ninth, which also was probably going to be the final inning since it was getting dark in the East Bay hills and Foothill doesn’t have lights. A balk moved him to second, then a fly ball to right moved him to third. He then scored on an error by the shortstop and then on the first pitch that Smith saw in the next at-bat he cracked it over the left field fence for a two-run homer.
Chriss pitched the bottom of the ninth for De La Salle and gave up a two-out walk, but got his second strikeout of the inning to end the game.
“We’re super ready for next week,” Smith said. “We’re not done yet.”
“Our goal has been NCS this season because this team wants its name on another banner like the others,” Jeans said. “We’ll worry about next week tomorrow. But sure we want to win NorCal and of course top seed would be nice. But we’ll be happy where ever we go. Whatever it takes.”
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