The St. Francis High baseball team picked up some hardware last week – winning the West Catholic Athletic League tournament – and embarks on the Central Coast Section playoffs this week looking to add to the trophy case.
The second-seeded Lancers (25-4 overall, 11-3 league) routed No. 3 Bellarmine 15-6 in Thursday’s WCAL final at Santa Clara University to share the league title with regular-season champ Mitty. The top-seeded Monarchs exited in the first round, upset by No. 8 Sacred Heart Cathedral.
St. Francis and Mitty both qualified for the new CCS Open Division, which comprises the top 16 teams, regardless of school size.
The Lancers are the third seed, the highest spot bestowed on a WCAL team. They are scheduled to open at home against No. 14 San Lorenzo Valley (15-9) 4 p.m. today. The winner advances to Saturday’s quarterfinals.
St. Francis’ tournament-clinching win over rival Bellarmine came one day after the Lancers shut out Sacred Heart Cathedral 10-0 in the semifinals. Starting pitcher Tyler Deason and reliever Tim Susnara combined for a no-hitter.
St. Francis, which opened the league tourney by defeating Riordan 5-2, enters CCS on a three-game winning streak.
“To be honest with you, I think that our eyes have been on CCS since day one,” said Mike Oakland, who coached the Lancers to a CCS Division I championship in 2013. “This (WCAL tournament) is a nice deal because it gives us a co-championship and I feel like these guys have earned it, (having) finished tied for first (place) … but the ultimate goal is CCS.”
The Lancers did something in the league tournament they’ve struggled to do all season – score runs. St. Francis, which averaged fewer than four runs per game during the WCAL regular season, totaled 30 runs in the WCAL tourney.
The Lancers wasted little time getting on the board Thursday against Bellarmine, cobbling together a five-run first inning. Blake Billinger started the scoring with a groundout that brought Susnara home with one out. One of two Bellarmine errors then extended the inning, leading to a two-run single from Blake Diggle, as well as a pair of run-scoring hits from Ryan McSwain and Conor Thane.
“That was one of the weirdest feelings,” Lancers starting pitcher John Gavin said of taking the mound in the bottom of the first with a five-run cushion. “I didn’t really know what to do. … It was a really weird feeling knowing that it wasn’t a 1-0 or 2-1 type of game.”
Gavin struck out four while giving up two runs (one earned) on five hits in four innings before yielding to a trio of Lancer relievers.
The Lancers eventually found themselves with an 11-2 lead after four innings – scoring three runs in the second, two in the third and one more in the fourth. The barrage included a run-scoring single from Erik Benedetti and a sacrifice fly RBI from Diggle.
“I don’t know where it came from,” Oakland said of his team’s scoring outburst. “We haven’t scored like that all year. … We’re normally going into a game thinking we’ve got to win by one or two runs.”
A four-run sixth by the Bells later cut the Lancers’ lead to five, but only temporarily.
St. Francis added four runs in the bottom of the frame, loading the bases with one out before scoring on a pair of wild pitches. Ryan Sharek later hit a two-run single for a 16-5 lead. Susnara took the hill and managed to get two quick outs before striking out Domenic Zanotto to close out the game.