A grand slam in the top of the seventh inning by junior Hank Tripaldi (who just lost his mother to cancer) caps a six-run rally to lift De La Salle of Concord to its second straight dramatic win in its second straight CIF NorCal baseball final. With the 11-8 defeat, state No. 2 Valley Christian of San Jose suffers the same fate as league rival St. Francis of Mountain View in a NorCal title game in 2022. We also have details on where De La Salle’s current 30-game playoff win streak ranks in state history and why the reigning American League MVP is part of it.
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Earlier in the CIF Northern California Division I championship game being played at Valley Christian’s scenic hilltop campus on Saturday in San Jose, there was a moment when De La Salle of Concord broadcaster Pat O’Rourke turned to two reporters covering the game in the press box and whispered that the mother of one of the players, junior Hank Tripaldi, had died just a few weeks ago.
“We heard that, too,” said longtime Bay Area News Group writer Darren Sabedra. “We were told not to mention it and we haven’t.”
Tripaldi is not exactly built like someone who looks like a power hitter at just barely 5-foot-9 and probably less than 160 pounds. But he provided the power for the Spartans in clutch moments of their 11-8 victory over Valley Christian that gave them their second straight CIF NorCal D1 title.
In a matchup long anticipated by Northern California prep baseball fans between a DLS program that has won six straight CIF North Coast Section D1 titles and was No. 1 in the state just last year (and also in 2019) and a Valley Christian program that has won five of the last six top divisional titles in the CIF Central Coast Section and was No. 1 in the state in 2018, both teams looked poised to win the game and both as it turned out had dramatic storylines behind what was going on in the late innings.
Tripaldi had knocked in the Spartans’ first run in the second inning with an RBI single and he had ripped a solo homer in the fifth inning. He had flied out in the sixth in a game in which both teams were getting free runners on base throughout either by walks or hit batters.
Entering the top the seventh, De La Salle was looking at an 8-5 deficit after scoring one in the sixth and not giving up a run in the bottom of the sixth. With one out, a hit by pitch, a walk and a single by Smith Chandler loaded the the bases. Tanner Griffith was then hit by a pitch for one run in, then another came in on a walk to Kai Smith. The team’s most impressive player, junior catcher Connor Harrison, then struck out. There were two outs therefore when Tripaldi came up with the score at 8-7. Just as he did earlier in the game, he launched a high drive toward the left field fence. The ball cleared it as a Valley Christian player pounded it in disgust. De La Salle’s players, fans and coaches exploded with glee. The 8-5 deficit had turned into an 11-8 lead.
In a game such as this one, however, another twist at the end would not have been a surprise. And it wasn’t easy in the bottom of the seventh. Keaton Norris singled for Valley Christian with one out, then Jordan Ortiz was hit by a pitch. Sean Cofer then came in to pitch for the Spartans. A three-run homer obviously would have tied the score at 11-11. Jacob Hudson had a solid drive to center field in the next at bat, but it was caught. Hunter Fujimoto was the next batter for the Warriors, who hit a hard grounder to second that was turned for the final out of the game.
Tripaldi was swarmed by his teammates following the game, but did get to have a few moments for himself to reflect on what had happened. He freely talked about his mother, Robin Tripaldi, who was just 48 years old (she would have been 49 on June 9) when she passed away on April 28 from breast cancer. Her memorial service was just two weeks ago.
“I was thinking about her the whole time,” he said.
In Robin’s obituary, it says one of her favorite things to do was to watch her boys play baseball (Hank has a younger brother, Charlie). Anyone who saw that game has to think that somehow, someway she was watching it. After Hank was done with most of the celebrating with teammates and talking to the media, the tears were flowing as he was hugging family members. It’s assumed one of them was his father, Dave.
There wasn’t an underlying storyline quite like that for Valley Christian, but the Warriors had come back themselves from a scary situation that might have caused just about any other team to just pack it in for the day. They were already behind 1-0 in the bottom of the second inning when standout pitcher-third baseman Michael Castaneda (who pitched a three-hitter and had a two-run single in the team’s CCS title game) tried to bunt the ball with a runner on first base. The ball glanced off the bat, however, and struck him in the face. He immediately fell to the ground and blood quickly poured out from his mouth. After Castaneda was gingerly helped off the field, players and coaches for both teams spent several minutes apparently searching for a tooth.
It was later revealed by Valley Christian officials that Castaneda had been taken to a local hospital to be checked out. He had lost one tooth and another was chipped. Other than that, he was okay.
After De La Salle had stretched its early lead to 3-0 with two runs in the top of the third inning, Valley Christian came back in the bottom of the frame. A single by Ortiz and two walks loaded the bases with two outs. Shortstop P.J. Moutzouridis (who already has been named the West Catholic Athletic League Player of the Year) then hit a fly ball toward the right field line. It fell in fair and with two outs all three runners scored easily and just like that the Warriors had tied the score, 3-3.
Valley Christian struck for another huge two-out hit in the bottom of the fourth to take a 5-3 lead. Carmelo Rivera this time did the honors with a two-run single that plated two runners who got on base after being hit by pitch.
Tripaldi’s first homer of the day made it 5-4 in the top of the fifth, but the Warriors responded with three in the bottom of the fifth to take the 8-4 lead that was not held on to. Moutzouridis got that rally going with a double and scored the first run on a squeeze bunt by Jacob Molyneaux. RBI singles by Norris and Fujimoto plated the other two runs.
“All of us thought we could do this,” Tripaldi said of the big comeback. “Last year I got to sit and watch (the comeback win vs St. Francis when the Spartans were down 6-3 entering the bottom of the seventh but won 7-6) and I didn’t play. I didn’t think anything could be bigger than that, but it just happened again.”
De La Salle head coach David Jeans agreed that the culture of success at the school (in all sports, not just baseball) contributed to the second straight comeback win, but being prepared for moments like that is important as well.
“We lift all the time in the off season and in the fall,” he said. “And we really do play one pitch at a time. It’s a cliche, but it’s true. Some of the early breaks just went their way. We had to keep playing and keep playing and trust that everyone and anyone can come through.”
The one difference between this year and last year is that the win will not lift the Spartans to the final No. 1 state ranking. They will move up to at least No. 3, but likely will be behind CIF Southern Section D1 champion JSerra of San Juan Capistrano (which opted out of the CIF regional playoffs) and CIF Southern California D1 winner Santa Margarita of Rancho SM (which won its title on Saturday over CIF San Diego Section Open Division champ La Costa Canyon). Valley Christian will end one spot right behind De La Salle in the final rankings.
Combined with the six straight NCS titles and now the two straight CIF NorCal titles, De La Salle also has pushed its current playoff win streak to 30 games. That prompted a search through the Cal-Hi Sports state record files to look for what the state record might be for that category since it hadn’t been looked up before.
Winters of the CIF Northern Section also has had a streak of six straight section titles, but in some years only had to win two playoff games in its bracket so its streak for those years wouldn’t be close to 30. The search quickly settled on Central Catholic of Modesto (which actually won a CIF regional title on Saturday as well) and its streak of winning 10 straight CIF Sac-Joaquin Section divisional titles from 2000 to 2009. The trick about that, though, is that in the SJS for many of those years there was a double-elimination format for the playoffs. It was possible for the Raiders to win a section title but lose a playoff game.
It wasn’t easy to determine since the streak began before MaxPreps existed, but we have info through weekly state rankings and newsletters that stretches back for 40 years and here’s what was discovered. The Raiders did lose a playoff game in the first year of their streak (2000) but won the last two. They didn’t lose similarly in any of the seasons that they won an SJS title between 2001 to 2009.
In Central Catholic’s second playoff game in 2010, the team lost to Linden, 12-3, although the Raiders came back to beat Linden in a follow-up game to that loss before their consecutive section title streak ended at 10 years in a row with a loss to Escalon. When you see Linden 2010 you might quickly wonder if the Lions were led by Aaron Judge that season. They were. Judge, last year’s American League MVP after he hit 62 homers for the New York Yankees, went 3-for-4 with two RBI in the win that broke Central Catholic’s playoff win streak. Unless proven wrong by additional research, the total we are going with is 40 games. De La Salle’s current streak of 30 therefore would be considered second on the all-time state list.
Looking up all-time records is fun to do, but it pales in comparison with the chills one gets seeing what Hank Tripaldi and his De La Salle teammates did on Saturday.