Photo By: Dan Miranda/Special to the Town Crier
The St. Francis High baseball team found itself in unfamiliar territory last week – losing consecutive games to league foes, including Valley Christian in Friday’s regular-season finale.
After opening the week with a 1-0 loss to rival Bellarmine, the Lancers fell 5-4 to visiting Valley Christian. The loss prevented St. Francis from winning the West Catholic Athletic League round-robin title outright and allowed co-champ Serra to nab the top seed in this week’s WCAL tournament.
Both teams finished 11-3 in league, but only Serra swept third-place Bellarmine. The Lancers split their two games with the Bells.
St. Francis led Valley Christian 3-2 after five innings Friday. The Warriors rallied with three runs in the sixth. The loss dropped the Lancers to 24-3 overall.
St. Francis coach Mike Oakland, whose team started last week ranked fourth nationally by MaxPreps, said the losses are a reality check for his squad.
“I think it’s actually good for us to face some adversity,” Oakland said. “We haven’t had to deal with a whole lot this year. So I think it’s good for us to actually have to check in a little bit and get back to doing what we’ve been doing.”
Warriors coach John Diatte, meanwhile, said beating the Lancers right before the league tourney was a confidence-booster for his team.
“(The Lancers) may have had the best talent – definitely in the section – and maybe in the state in the last six years, so for us to be able to compete with them … it’s huge,” said Diatte, whose team finished 7-7 in league and 16-10 overall.
The Warriors chased St. Francis starting pitcher Michael Strem in the sixth after he put runners on the corners with two outs. Junior shortstop Bryson Brigman then delivered a two-out, two-run single to left field off reliever Tyler Deason. Bryce Novak, the trailing runner on the play behind Brandon Alexander, scored after dislodging the ball in a collision with catcher Tim Susnara. Warriors’ right fielder Will Chase later hit a run-scoring bloop single to drive in Brigman.
Earlier, however, the Lancers appeared to be headed for their 12th league win.
Down 1-0 after an Adam Belluomini RBI double in the second inning, they tied the game at 1 in the bottom of the fourth on Hunter Simmons’ double off reliever Mark Quimby, which scored Austin Guibor. The Lancers then went up 2-1 on an RBI single from first baseman Mark Cardinalli, scoring Simmons and chasing Quimby. Deason added a third run by lifting a sacrifice fly to right field off reliever Theron Kay, scoring Susnara.
But after falling behind in the sixth, St. Francis never recovered. The Lancers cut their deficit to one run on a two-out RBI single from Kort Peterson in the bottom of the sixth, but Valley Christian reliever Ben Hughes shut them down in the seventh. He coaxed Cardinalli into a game-ending groundout with a runner at first.
“They won the big spots,” Oakland said of the Warriors. “When they needed to win the spot, they won it, with a swing or a play in the field or a pitch. We didn’t quite do that today.”
The Lancers were scheduled to open the WCAL tournament Tuesday (after the Town Crier’s press deadline) at home against No. 7 Riordan. The winner advances to the semifinals, slated today (4:30 and 7:30 p.m. start times) at Santa Clara University.