Sports


SHP achieves a first in baseball with a section championship

 

Striking out the game's final batter to win a championship, having your teammates dogpile on top of you in front of the mound, holding up a trophy for the first time in program history.

It was the kind of scenario pitchers dream about, and it happened to Sacred Heart Prep senior John Bird in his final game Saturday.

After the Gators scored three times in the bottom of the sixth to take a 4-2 lead, Bird struck out Carmel's Joseph Bifano to cap a 1-2-3 seventh and clinch the Central Coast Section Division II title at San Jose Municipal Stadium.

It was the first-ever CCS baseball title for Sacred Heart Prep, which lost in its only previous finals appearance back in 1989.

"It's unreal," Bird said. "It's the kind of stuff you dream of when you're a kid, your last out of the game for some sort of championship, and you strike the guy out and let your team all kind of collapse onto you. There's really no greater feeling. It was unbelievable."

Will Johnston, Andrew Daschbach and Andrew Robinson all went 2 for 3 with an RBI and freshman pitcher Angelo Tonas allowed just two hits and two runs in six innings for the fourth-seeded Gators (21-12).

Seven-time champion Carmel (23-8), whose last title was in 2007, took a 2-0 lead in the second inning. Tonas walked the first two batters, and they both scored on a double by designated hitter John Stivers. But SHP first-year coach Anthony Granato stuck with his freshman, and while Tonas (5-4) hit two batters and walked three more, he only allowed one more hit after Striver's double -- a single by Joseph Bifano in the sixth.

"I've seen (Tonas) do it all year long," Granato said. "He's a young kid so he's got a little nerves but I know he's talented and I know he can execute, so I'm not going to give up on him just because it's a championship game."

Bifano reached third base with two outs in the sixth, but Tonas got a groundout to keep the Gators within striking distance.

"I definitely felt nerves in the beginning, then I settled down and started doing what I've been doing all season," Tonas said. "(Granato) told me this is just like any other game you've pitched this season, just keep doing what you normally do."

Tonas's performance gave the Sacred Heart Prep offense enough time to solve Carmel starter Tanner Koopmans, who struck out four of the first six batters he faced but didn't record another strikeout in his final 3.1 innings.

The Gators got on the board in the third when Robinson led off with a single, moved to second when Schafer Kraemer was hit by a pitch and scored on a two-out single by Johnston to make it 2-1.

Sacred Heart Prep broke the game open in the sixth, when Granato said the team stopped taking fastballs and getting behind in the count and started being more aggressive.

Johnston led off with a single and scored the tying run on the double down the left-field line by Daschbach, a .452 hitter. John Van Sweden greeted reliever Carter Hayes with a go-ahead RBI single, and the Gators added an insurance run with an RBI single by Robinson.

"I think all year we were just able to keep grinding and battling no matter the situation we were put in," said Daschbach, a junior who has committed to Stanford. "Having the ability to keep pushing and keep the energy up, that's really what separated us from teams in the past."

After pitching 17 scoreless innings during the tournament, including seven on in Tuesday's semifinal, Johnston was eligible to pitch three more innings on Saturday. But the Gators then went with Bird to close it out, and he responded by retiring the 9-1-2 hitters in order.

"They really did want to be successful and they came out and they worked their butts off all year long and I'm just happy for them," Granato said. "That's a great way to remember your senior year for our seniors, and for the (returning players) it's a way for them to see the kind of culture we're trying to build at Sacred Heart. And now those younger guys have seen it, they believe in it, and they can move on with that confidence."

After winning the CCS Open Division football title and making the school's first-ever CCS Open Division basketball tournament, Sacred Heart Prep capped off its wildly successful year with its first championship in baseball.

"It's been a dream come true," Daschbach said. "When I came over to Sacred Heart that was my goal, to win a championship, and it's been a blessing to be able to win a couple. The football's team success set the tone, and we were able to carry it over to basketball, and to baseball as well."

The CCS title was Sacred Heart Prep's fifth of the year, following girls soccer, boys and girls water polo and football. It marked the third straight season that the Gators have won five section titles.

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