By Jeremy Balan
DALY CITY – After coasting to a 8-0 lead through five innings of their first-round Central Coast Section Division II playoff game against Westmont High School of Campbell, the St. Ignatius baseball team suddenly ran into some similar demons.
A week after an error-filled loss to Serra, another error opened the door for a five-run Westmont sixth inning, but this time, the fifth-seeded Wildcats had a cushion just large enough to hold on for a 8-6 victory on Thursday at Marchbank Park.
“Unraveling would be a good word for it,” said St. Ignatius head coach Matt Stecher. “It started with the error and then they started hitting the ball. I got a little nervous, but I think we got a little complacent. With a big lead, guys lost their focus and it showed.”
The error in the fifth came on a bobble by senior second baseman Matt DeBenedetti and the ball found him again with the game on the line.
With the tying run on second base and two outs in the top of the seventh, Westmont’s Josh Parker grounded a ball to DeBenedetti’s right and the junior backhanded the slowly-hit ground ball, pivoted and threw a strike to first baseman Matt Krook to seal the game.
“I told them that if you make a mistake, that doesn’t define your game,” Stecher said. “You stay in it and you make a difference. A lesser player would have let that eat him up, but a true competitor makes that play.”
Stecher’s moves late in the game also caused some drama and flew in the face of conventional baseball strategy, but ultimately proved to be successful.
After St. Ignatius senior closer Ian Anderson allowed back-to-back doubles to start the top of the seventh inning, Stecher elected to intentionally walk Westmont first baseman Justin Edgar, who represented the tying run.
Edgar came into the game leading the 12th-seeded Warriors (15-13) in batting average, RBIs, extra-base hits and home runs, but went 0-for-1 with three walks on Thursday.
“He’s their best hitter – he leads them in batting average and home runs – and I didn’t want to see him tie it up with one swing,” Stecher said. “It may not have worked, and I’ve done things that haven’t worked out before, but it was a risk. We quickly weighed the pros and cons of it and thought that that was the best move.”
A sacrifice bunt sent the runners to second and third, then Anderson delivered a clutch swinging strikeout on a high fastball and got Parker to ground out to end the game.
“They did their homework and it’s a gut feeling,” Westmont head coach Tony Pianto said of the intentional walk. “Obviously it worked out for them. I don’t question anything, because you never know what could work or not work, but it was a good strategy in that situation.”
St. Ignatius starting pitcher Collin Monsour appeared to be his normal dominant self through five shutout innings, but ran into trouble in the sixth. Although all of his four charged runs were unearned due to the error, the senior also gave up four hits and was removed with two outs in the sixth on another gamble by Stecher.
Stecher elected to sub in sophomore Logan Steinberg, a junior varsity call-up playing in his first varsity game, to stop the bleeding.
Steinberg allowed back-to-back singles and allowed a run, but struck out Westmont catcher Ryudo Hirayama swinging with a fastball up in the zone to end the threat.
“We scrimmaged on Tuesday and he was fantastic,” Stecher said of Steinberg. “He was hitting his spots and throwing strikes. Again, it was a risk, but we’re confident in what he can do.”
On the offensive side, the Wildcats (20-8-1) pounded out 11 hits and every player in the lineup reached base, but most of the production came from the bottom half of the lineup.
DeBenedetti and junior right fielder Dylan Foster, the No. 8 and 9 hitters in the lineup, combined for four hits, four runs and two RBIs.
“When your six, seven, eight and nine guys are producing for you, you know you’re doing something right,” DeBenedetti said.
Foster and DeBenedetti also had singles in a crucial fifth inning, where the Wildcats collected six straight hits and scored five runs.
“We left seven in scoring position, but the guys toward the bottom of the order came up big and got hits when we needed them – hits that made a difference, for sure,” Stecher said.
The win advances the Wildcats to the second round of the CCS tournament to face fourth seed Los Altos on Saturday, but also puts them in a rough spot on the mound.
At the beginning of the season, St. Ignatius featured four quality starters – Monsour, along with juniors Jack Klein, Krook and Jack Stinn – but Klein is still unavailable to pitch due to a wrist injury he sustained against Palo Alto in early April, Stinn is a no-go after he tore cartilage in his shoulder last week and Krook had a rough outing in his last start against Serra in the WCAL championship game.
The start on Saturday still figures to be Krook’s, but Stecher would not name his starter after the game on Thursday.
“We were in a spot three weeks ago where we didn’t know who we should pick to pitch. Now we’re going to have to sit down and think about it,” Stecher said. “Now we’re going to have to mix and match a little bit out of the bullpen and it’s going to be by committee from here on out.”
SI – Matt Krook singles, Nico Giarratano scores
SI – Dylan Foster doubles, Matt DeBenedetti scores
SI – Christian Santos reaches on a fielder’s choice, Foster scores
SI – Charlie Goldensohn singles, Jack Klein scores
SI – DeBenedetti singles, Kyle Tillinghast scores
SI – DeBenedetti steals second, Goldensohn scores on a throwing error
SI – DeBenedetti scores on a wild pitch
SI – Jack Stinn reaches on an error, Foster scores
W – Lucas Erceg doubles, TJ Conroy scores
W – JD Hearn singles, Stuart Rosser scores
W – Josh Parker triples, Hearn scores
W – Hunter Wood singles, Parker scores
W – Dominic Zucca singles, Wood scores
W – Lucas Erceg doubles, Conroy scores