By Jeremy Balan
SAN JOSE – The last time a City team played in a West Catholic Athletic League championship game, Bay Area baseball icon Barry Bonds was on the field as a sophomore.
St. Ignatius, which was the last City team to play in the WCAL championship game when it lost to Bonds’ Serra squad in 1980, ended that daunting streak with a 3-1 win over third-seeded Valley Christian in the league semifinals on Wednesday at San Jose Municipal Stadium.
The Wildcats (19-7-1) got another standout performance from Cal-bound senior starting pitcher Collin Monsour, who allowed just one earned run on five hits and struck out seven on 102 pitches to pick up the complete-game win.
Monsour has a 1.45 earned run average in 10 appearances this season and the win over Valley Christian (21-8) was his fourth complete game.
“He did what he’s been doing all year long,” said St. Ignatius head coach Matthew Stecher. “He’s been fantastic on the mound, doesn’t get flustered in any situation and he’s a competitor. He’s the guy we wanted to have the ball today and he proved why he’s our No. 1 pitcher.”
After navigating through the first four innings almost exclusively using his fastball, the right-hander broke out his curveball and it was more than effective.
His most impactful curve came in the sixth inning, with they tying run on second base and two outs. On a 1-2 pitch, Monsour bent a breaking ball over the plate that froze Valley Christian first baseman Cameron Stewart to end the inning.
“It felt good in the bullpen and felt good on the mound in warmups, but I was just waiting till they showed me they could time my fastball,” Monsour said of his breaking ball. “I mixed it up a little bit after that.”
Monsour allowed the first run of the game in the top of the third inning on an RBI single from Valley Christian shortstop Bryson Brigman, but the Wildcats responded in the next frame when junior center fielder Jack Stinn singled in catcher Charlie Goldensohn to knot the score at 1-1.
Then a familiar contributor put the Wildcats ahead.
Senior right fielder Nick Johnson lined a two-out RBI single to left field in the fourth inning, and upped his batting average to .408 and extended his hitting streak to seven games with a 2-for-4 performance at the plate.
“He’s been on fire and he’s picked us up everywhere we needed it,” Stecher said. “We have some guys hitting now, but he’s been the bright spot of our lineup and has been for a while.”
St. Ignatius added a run in the bottom of the sixth inning on a fielder’s choice goundout by pinch hitter Jason Lock, but left nine runners on base, including seven in scoring position.
“We talked about it after the game yesterday where we hit well, that it needed to carry over,” Stecher said of the 19-8 win over Sacred Heart Cathedral in the first round of the league playoffs on Tuesday. “It didn’t really carry over today, but the further you get in the playoffs the smaller the margin of error. We got away with a little today, but the margin of error tomorrow is zero.”
The second-seeded Wildcats will take on fourth seed Serra – which knocked off top seed St. Francis 4-1 in the other semifinal on Wednesday night – in the league championship game at Santa Clara University on Thursday and will hope to get some offensive help from Jack Klein.
Klein, who was the Wildcats’ No. 2 starting pitcher and regular starting center fielder until he was sidelined by a wrist injury against Palo Alto in early April, has made two consecutive starts as the team’s designated hitter.
The junior went 1-for-3 against Valley Christian, but is 1-for-6 since returning from the injury.
“He’s still getting his timing down, because he hasn’t seen live pitching in four weeks,” Stecher said. “He’s been working hard through his injury, he never takes a day off and we’re excited to have him back.”
Stecher did not set his starter for Thursday in stone after the game, but said he was leaning toward hard-throwing junior left-hander Matt Krook.
At the plate, Krook leads the Wildcats in hits (31) and batting average (.409), and has a 2.69 ERA on the mound this season, but has struggled to get deep in games. In his last start on Friday against Mitty, however, he threw a season-high six innings and allowed just a single earned run.
“He’s been resting all week and he had a good outing on Friday,” Stecher said. “He gives us our best shot tomorrow.”
St. Ignatius also may be without starting second baseman Matt DeBenedetti on Thursday. The senior twisted his ankle after stretching out to try to beat a groundout in the fourth inning and was removed from the game.
VC – Bryson Brigman singles, Keenan Brigman scores1
SI – Jack Stinn singles, Charlie Goldensohn scores
SI – Nick Johnson singles, Nick Formanek scores
SI – Jason Lock reaches on a fielder’s choice, Christian Santos scores