Sports

SHP rallies to play another day in CCS baseball playoffs

 

Joe Armstrong had himself a pretty good day on Friday with Sacred Heart Prep's graduation ceremonies, followed by grad night festivities in Santa Cruz. He had an even better time on Saturday in the Central Coast Section baseball playoffs.

Really, a baseball game was more fun than grad night?

"What I did today was better," said Armstrong, who produced a career-high four RBI in the Gators' 11-6 victory over visiting Burlingame in a CCS Division II quarterfinal.

The victory moved the No. 4-seeded Gators (19-12) into the section semifinals for the first time since 2005. SHP will face No. 8 Monterey (17-12), a 10-0 winner over No. 1 Hillsdale (27-3) in five innings, on Tuesday at San Jose Municipal Stadium.

SHP can thank Armstrong, junior Andrew Daschbach, sophomore reliever Cole Spina and a host of teammates for yet another successful postseason run.

After Burlingame grabbed a 5-0 lead in the top of the third, it appeared as if SHP's season was at an end.

"Heart-testing," said SHP first-year coach Anthony Granato said of his team's predicament.

Granato simply told his players, "Don't put extra pressure on yourself." Just take it an inning and pitch at a time. His players heeded the advice.

"We never give up," Armstrong said. "In past years, we have gotten far in CCS, so we don't put too much pressure on us."

Armstrong had played in only 18 games previously and was batting .176 with nine hits and four RBI. He had his career day against the Panthers, helping the Gators survive to play another day.

Armstrong had a groundout RBI in the bottom of the third to pull the Gators to within 5-4 after Daschbach had doubled home two runs and John Van Sweden followed with an RBI groundout.

Burlingame pulled ahead by 6-4 in the fourth with a perfectly executed hit-and-run. SHP got a run back in the bottom of the inning on an RBI single by senior Mitch Martella. It remained 6-5 until the bottom of the sixth.

SHP's Michael York walked and was replaced by the speedy Andrew Robinson, who stole second. After a flyout and groundout, the Gators caught fire.

Mitch Martella and Will Johnston both walked, to load the bases, and fellow senior Cole March was hit by a pitch to bring home Robinson for a 6-6 game. With the bases still loaded, Daschbach also was hit for the eventual winning run.

After Burlingame brought in its fourth pitcher, Van Sweden drew a walk for an 8-6 lead and then Armstrong cleared the bases with a double down the line in left to make it 11-6.

"You see the guy ahead of you have success (at the plate) and it just builds momentum," Armstrong explained.

"It's nice to see different guys contribute," said Granato. "Joe got that big hit."

Daschbach finished with three RBI with Martella and junior catcher Blake Marcus providing two hits each.

Granato said it was all about being resilient and dealing with adversity.

"Our guys are pretty mature," Granato said.

Speaking of which, Spina showed a lot of maturity by coming into the game in the top of the third with the Gators trailing by 4-0. He allowed just two runs and four hits over the next four innings. He relieved freshman Anthony Tonas.

SHP will turn to senior Will Johnston for Tuesday's CCS semifinal. Johnston pitched 10 innings in a 1-0 win over Palma in the second round.

The Gators last played in a CCS championship game in 1989, a loss to rival Menlo School. Granato, a 1999 Burlingame grad, played in CCS title games in 1998 and '99.

"We lost both," he said.

Perhaps a third time will be a charm.

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