SAN JOSE — In baseball’s version of a staredown, it was St. Ignatius that blinked first.
The No. 14 seed Wildcats lost a thrilling Central Coast Section Division II tournament championship game in heartbreaking fashion, falling 4-3 in 11 innings to No. 5 Willow Glen of San Jose on Saturday at Municipal Stadium.
“It was a great game — I just wish we were on the other side of it,” St. Ignatius coach Matt Stecher said. “We're disappointed with the outcome, but we're very proud of the guys. We had a rough [regular] season, but we battled all the way to the very end.”
It just wasn't enough to win a second straight Division II title. Innings wise, this was no one of — if not the longest — game in CCS baseball title contest history. The Wildcats (18-13) will no doubt remember this one as the one that got away. SI committed six of the nine errors in the game, and it was the final one that proved to be costly.
Willow Glen (21-10) put runners on first and second base with no out in the bottom of the 11th inning when Tucker Bacon laid down a bunt that went straight to SI pitcher Andrew Ferrero, who initially looked to third before throwing wildly past first base and into foul territory in right field, allowing the Rams to easily score the game-winning run.
“In a game like this, the margin of error is very small,” Stecher said. “We definitely made mistakes that let the game get away. I chalk that up to a little bit of nerves and a little bit of excitement, where the guys were amped up and maybe a little anxious.”
The key sequence of the game came in the top of the sixth inning, when the Wildcats loaded the bases with no out and the score tied at 2-2. That's when Nico Giarratano hit a low liner to Rams second baseman Kenny Sullivan, who trapped the ball. Even though one of the field umpires clearly signaled no catch, at least two of the three SI base runners seemed confused with the situation.
Sullivan alertly threw to home plate for the force for the first out. Rams catcher John Riley then rifled the ball to first baseman Jimmy Riley for the second out. The SI runner at second was already way off the bag, so Jimmy Riley threw the ball to shortstop Bacon, who quickly tossed it to third base where the Rams got the tag and the third out for the triple play.
“Our base runners weren't sure if it was a catch or not, but the umpire clearly ruled it was not a catch,” Stecher said. “We should've been more on top of the call as base runners, and we got exposed on the bases.”
Not only did SI squander a golden scoring opportunity, but Willow Glen scored a run in the bottom half of the inning to make it 3-2. Once the game went into extra innings, it was all Willow Glen. The Rams put runners on in three of the four innings beyond the seventh, while SI was only able to mount a decent threat with two outs in the top of the 11th.
Shortstop Logan Steinberg drove in a run and led SI with two hits while also making two outstanding defensive plays, and Jason Lock was the only other SI player who drove in a run with a sacrifice-fly in the first inning. Jonathan Hernandez started and allowed one earned run over three innings, and Matt Krook and Hunter Noah tossed three innings apiece, with each allowing a run. Andrew Ferrero retired the side in the 10th before encountering trouble in the decisive 11th.
“We're obviously disappointed with how things turned out, but we have nothing to be ashamed of in terms of the effort we gave,” Steinberg said.