By Bonta Hill
On paper, this year’s Academic Athletic Association championship at AT&T Park between Washington and Balboa high schools looks like a monumental mismatch.
The Eagles are participating in their seventh consecutive AAA championship game and are looking to mimic the 2006 Washington squad, which went undefeated and won the championship.
“It’s always our goal to get here, and the expectations have been set high here,” said Washington head coach Rob Fung. “If we don’t reach this point, then obviously it’s not a good season for us.”
Washington (18-6-1) comes into the title game after a perfect run through the AAA, including two victories over Balboa, 10-2 and 12-2. Fung, however, is not overlooking the upstart Buccaneers.
“Balboa deserves to be here, and I told someone earlier in the season that I thought they were better than Lowell,” Fung said. “The regular season doesn’t mean anything, and the playoffs are a different story. Their coach [Tom Pontino] has done a great job with his team.”
Balboa (12-13) made it this far by upsetting Lowell High School in the semifinals — routing the Cardinals 11-2 on the strength of sophomore Jeremy Wong’s 3-for-4, five RBI day — and the Buccaneers seem to be peaking at the right time.
“We’re excited, the school is excited and the kids are enjoying their celebrity status around campus,” Pontino said. “I didn’t think we would score seven runs in the first two innings against Lowell. It was a quite a surprise.”
The Buccaneers are excited about the chance to play for the title, as they’re the school’s first team since 1992 to reach the final game — which was Balboa’s last baseball championship.
As the Balboa community has been overjoyed with the Buccaneers’ accomplishment of making the championship, ace Alex Arnold, who will take the mound in today’s championship, said the goal isn’t quite complete.
“It feels good that this is really happening, but we understand we have one more game to go,” Arnold said. “We didn’t play up to our potential against [Washington] the first time around and they have a really good lineup, but we just need to focus and play our game and see what happens.”
Opposing Arnold on the mound will be Washington’s Dane Vande Guchte, who has had a terrific season for Washington and is one of the leading candidates for AAA Player of the Year.
Vande Guchte, right fielder Paul Duchene and catcher Alex Kozakiewicz lead a potent Eagles lineup that outscored AAA opponents 133-19.
Also, an added incentive for the Eagles is that they have the chance to complete something that no AAA school has done: win football, basketball and baseball championships in the same school year.
“We’ve worked really hard to get back to this game, and we’re a lot more hungry after last years loss to [Galileo],” Vande Guchte said. “We try not to think about the Triple Crown because we have to play for ourselves. Balboa is on a good run and they’re pretty confident, so we just have to continue to play hard.”