Even though the Washington baseball team got off to a slow start this season, it never doubted it could turn things around.
Now we know why. With a convincing 10-5 win over host Balboa in the San Francisco Section-Academic Athletic Association playoff semifinals on Thursday at Sundberg Field, the Eagles advanced to their 18th AAA championship game in the last 19 years, all under current coach Rob Fung. Washington (13-14) will play Lowell, which knocked off Marshall 14-4 in the other semifinal, for the title on Wednesday at AT&T Park.
“It’s always rewarding when you can get back to the championship game,” Fung said. “We’re battle-tested — that’s what we are.”
Of that, there is no doubt. How else to explain a Washington team that will enter the championship game with a sub-.500 record? The Eagles were 6-12 before they started to turn things around, winning seven of their next nine games. On Thursday, the Eagles defeated the same Balboa team that had swept the regular-season series between the squads by scores of 11-4 and 9-5, respectively.
“The difference is we’ve finally got some guys healthy now,” Fung said. “We had probably four starters who were hurt early in the season, and some of our scores reflected that. We’re still kind of piecing it together.”
Washington starter Kyle Hoo and reliever Chris Yee combined on a four-hitter, and the Eagles were in full control after scoring six runs in the top of the third inning to take a commanding 7-0 lead. In the frame, Washington sent 11 batters to the plate, collecting seven hits.
Balboa (16-5) answered with three runs in the bottom half of the inning to cut its deficit to 7-3, but it would get no closer. The Eagles scored single runs in each of the next three innings to win going away. Washington’s Chris Hau had a game-high three hits, while the Buccaneers’ Branden Oropeza reached base three times, finishing with two RBIs. Washington produced six hits and five earned runs against Balboa starter Eli Smoot, who lasted 2¹?³ innings.
This wasn’t an artistic masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination — the teams combined for 10 errors, six by Balboa — but Washington will take it.
“This means a lot, especially because we didn’t have our best [regular] season,” said Yee, who pitched four innings of relief, allowing two earned runs. “We can’t wait to play again at AT&T. Since the seniors have been there, we know what to expect, and we can play with confidence. It’s about finishing.”
And no team knows how to finish better than Washington.
Lowell vs. Washington
AT STAKE: AAA-S.F. Section championship
WHEN: Wednesday, approximately 4 p.m. (following Giants-Phillies game)
WHERE: AT&T Park