By Jeremy Balan
SAN BRUNO — International High School was down by two runs heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, and it felt eerily familiar.
For the second season in a row, International took an undefeated Bay Counties League Central record in the the league championship, and for the second year in a row they trailed 4-2 late in the title game.
But the Jaguars would not be denied this time, as a pair of standout seniors were the difference in a 5-4 walk-off win over San Francisco Waldorf High School on Saturday at Skyline College.
International cut the lead to 4-3 on a sacrifice fly from Devin Conroy in the seventh inning, but it was the Jaguars’ second out, putting them one out away from their second consecutive disappointment in the league championship game.
Up next was standout senior shortstop Brian Benavides, who had gone 0-for-3 up to that point.
Benavides sent an outside pitch deep to right field, where Waldorf outfielder Oscar Bonilla dove for the ball, but it hit off the tip of his glove, allowing Benavides drive in the tying run with a triple and represent the championship-winning run just 90 feet away.
“Our whole thing with this team is to just never give up,” Benavides said. “The confidence was still there and our coaches tell us all the time, good teams find a way to win.”
The Jaguars did find a way, but it came in heart-breaking fashion for Waldorf. In the next at-bat, International senior Clay Bloszies hit a hard ground ball to first base, but the ball caromed off the glove of Waldorf first baseman Johnny Economopoulos and squirted into foul territory, allowing Bloszies to reach base and Benavides to score the game-winning run.
“It was disappointing, but there is such a high level of character on this team, they’d be the first to tell you that [International] deserved it,” said first-year Waldorf head coach Josh Allain. “It would have been the first baseball championship the school’s had, and it was that close. They were scared and they thought we had them, and we almost did.”
The fact that Bloszies and Benavides, who have been cornerstones of the program, contributed directly to the comeback bid made the win that much sweeter for International head coach Anthony Thomas.
“I couldn’t write a better script,” Anthony said. “For Brian to hit the triple and Clay to drive him in. You can’t write that.”
Bloszies also went the distance on the mound for the Jaguars and struck out 10 Waldorf batters, but struggled with command in the strike zone at times and allowed a season-high nine hits.
“He was missing, and that’s not him,” Thomas said. “We felt good coming into this, but give credit to Waldorf. They hit Clay better than anyone did all year. When that was happening, it took us completely out of our comfort zone.”
But after he gave up two runs in the top of the fifth inning, allowing the Wolverines to open up a 4-0 lead, Bloszies retired the final eight Waldorf batters to set up the dramatic finish.
“The definitely did a great job at the plate and they shelled me,” Bloszies said. “I just had to work with what I had. They were hitting the fastball pretty well and what I relied on most of the year was just blowing it by people, so I had to go more off-speed and work in my changeup.”
Despite a game performance from senior pitcher Peter Schwarzenbach, he received the complete-game loss, allowing five runs (three earned) on six hits, to go along with four strikeouts.
“He was gutsy and got out of a ton of jams,” Allain said. “When he needed to make big pitches he did. He just happened to be in a situation against the best hitter in the league [in Benavides].”
Both teams will advance to the North Coast Section playoffs, with International gaining the league’s automatic bid in Division V and Waldorf surely earning an at-large bid in Division VI.
“We’ve got more baseball to play,” Allain said. “We’re going to make noise in NCS.”
W – Evan Schwarzenbach triples, Austin Fusco scores
W – Nick Zatopa grounds out, Schwarzenbach scores
W – Zatopa doubles, Fusco and Schwarzenbach score
I – Jacob Bogdanov scores on a balk
I – Maxwell Drolet grounds out, Griffin Wurzelbacher scores
I – Devin Conroy sacrifice fly, Wurzelbacher scores
I – Brian Benavides triples, Conroy scores
I – Clay Bloszies reaches on an error, Benavides scores
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