SAN JOSE — When the California Interscholastic Federation voted before the pandemic to add a regional tournament for baseball, you’ve got to think the decision-makers imagined games such as the one that unfolded Thursday at Valley Christian. On the first day of June under blue skies, two section champions with four losses between them met for a spot in Saturday’s Northern California Division I final. As expected, it was nail-bitingly tense from the first pitch to the last.
But only Valley Christian was celebrating at the end. The top-seeded Warriors held off fourth-seeded Cardinal Newman 2-1 to advance to play host to defending champion De La Salle in the championship game. The second-seeded Spartans beat Franklin-Elk Grove 6-5 in nine innings in the other semifinal.
Valley Christian ace Michael Castaneda pitched five innings of one-run ball against a powerful-swinging team from Santa Rosa and Alec Belardes pitched the final two frames for his second save of the regionals. But it was far from smooth sailing. Cardinal Newman left a runner at third in the first, second, third, fifth and sixth innings.
In the fourth, when Brady Boyd’s home run to left pulled the visitors to within 2-1, the Cardinals stranded a runner at second. “Just trust my D,” Castaneda said. “They were doing a good job of getting on base early in the innings.
I was able to dial in after that and stay focused and be able to trust my D. No matter where they hit it, no matter how hard they hit it, it’s going to find a guy. ” Cardinal Newman, which had lost only once all season, came out swinging in the first inning.
But after Anane Wilson reached third with two outs, Boyd ripped a ball to deep center that Tatum Marsh reeled in. It was that kind of day for the visitors and a stomach-turner for the winning coach. “It obviously raised my blood pressure a little bit,” Valley Christian coach John Diatte said.
“But just being able to trust the guys that you have in the game, knowing that these guys have been with us for three years, we’ve invested in them. They’ve invested in us. “They know what our culture is about.
You’ve just got to trust them to do the right things. ” Valley Christian (31-3) didn’t even need a hit to take a 1-0 lead in the first. Carmelo Rivera got hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, moved to second on a balk and went to third on Marsh’s sacrifice.
Rivera then scored on PJ Moutzouridis’ sac fly to center. It stayed 1-0 until Quinten Marsh hit a two-out opposite-field single to left in the third to drive in Rivera, who opened the inning with a bunt single. “It was fastball, low and away,” Marsh said.
“I was kind of sitting on it because he had been giving me those sliders and I was battling those off. I knew he was going to try to get me with a fastball. I just had to get it in play and let my runners get around.
I got it done. ” After Boyd’s home run cut Valley’s lead in half, the home team threatened to pad its advantage in the fifth when Moutzouridis’s double down the left-field line and an error on Quinten Marsh’s flyball to left put runners at second and third with nobody out. But Castaneda’s groundout to second turned into a double play when Marsh, who thought Moutzouridis had broken from third to home, got thrown out at second.
A flyout ended the inning with the score still 2-1. Cardinal Newman (28-2) had another shot to pull even in the sixth when a throwing error on a sacrifice bunt moved pinch-runner Colin Lopez from first to third. But Valley caught a break on the play when Diego Boardman, who put down the sacrifice bunt, was thrown out trying to advance to second.
With two out and Lopez at third, the Arizona State-bound Belardes struck out Jack Lazark with a knee-buckling breaking ball to end the threat. Belardes then retired the side in order in the seventh to send Valley to the title game against De La Salle, which has won 29 consecutive postseason games dating to 2016. “I trusted my breaking ball a lot today,” Belardes said.
“Fastball wasn’t really there at the beginning and then it got dialed in. I knew I had to make good pitchers. ” On the Cardinal Newman side, it was a tough end to a special season, one that included a North Coast Section Division III championship last weekend.
Mason Lerma gave his team a shot, allowing two runs over six innings. “We had a lot of opportunities,” Cardinal Newman coach Derek DeBenedetti said. “We swung the bat well.
We got ourselves opportunities. We just couldn’t cash in a couple of times. But they had the same opportunities.
It just came down to two great teams battling today. ”.