5/24/23:  The Redwood Varsity Baseball Giants’ winning 2023 campaign came to a close in Petaluma Wednesday, at the hands of the #1-seeded Gauchos of Casa Grande High School, who went on to win the NCS tournament, and who will head to the Northern California CIS tournament.

The Giants nearly took the early lead against Gaucho starter Austin Steeves, as second baseman Theo Trono led off the game with a single to right field, stealing second base right away. Third baseman Rex Solle followed by taking a Steeves fastball in the thigh, putting runners on first and second.

But Gaucho catcher J.T. Summers caught Trono at third on an attempted double steal, so when Steeves uncorked a wild pitch to Giants catcher Rory Coughlan, all the Giants got out of it was Solle’s stroll to third. Steeves then fanned Coughlan to end the inning.

With two outs in their half of the 1st, the Gauchos drew first blood against Giants ace Rory Minty, as Summer blooped a ball into no-man’s land – behind first base, just fair. Gaucho first baseman Alex Cruz then dropped another single into right, bringing center fielder Jeffrey Rice to the plate.

Minty and Rice locked up in a lengthy battle, but on the tenth pitch of the at-bat, Rice singled up the middle to score Summers, putting the Gauchos on the board, 1-0. Minty then struck out left fielder Jesse Calkin looking, retiring the side and limiting the damage.

The Giants went quietly in the top of the 2nd, save for a brief glimmer of hope when first baseman Ben Resnick looped a liner towards right field. Gaucho second baseman Danny Mercado caught up with the ball after a long run, diving on the grass for a remarkable catch.

The bottom of the second snowballed into the crookedest inning of the year for the Giants, and altered the outlook for the rest of the game. Gaucho DH Elijah Sullivan greeted Minty’s first pitch of the frame with a single up the middle, moving to second on Mercado’s sacrifice bunt, which Minty and Trono handled well for the first out of the inning. So far, not so bad.

The snowball started rolling on shortstop Jordan Giacomini’s grounder in the hole. Solle, taking it on the big hop, bobbled the ball, then swivelled to third, where Giants shortstop Danil Wells was racing behind to cover. Wells, Sullivan and Solle’s throw arrived at third simultaneously, resulting in a cloud of dust, and Wells upended but somehow holding the ball. The call looked like it could go either way, but unfortunately went against the Giants, putting runners on first and third with the top of the order coming up.

Energized, Steeves helped himself with a single up the middle to score Sullivan, whereupon Minty walked Gaucho right fielder Kalen Clemmens to load the bases. Summers and Cruz, happy to take their turns again, both singled, and all of the sudden the score was 5-0.

Never one to back down, Minty fanned Rice for the second out, but couldn’t quite close out the Gauchos, walking Calkin to load the bases again, before Sullivan, batting around, tormented Minty a second time in the inning with a line drive to right field, scoring two more.

The Giants had a bead on the third out when Mercado grounded to Wells, who tried to go to second for the force, but threw low to a late-arriving Trono, sending the ball into right field and Calkin home to make it an even 8-0.

The Gauchos were even angling for more, as Giacomini singled to load the bases for Steeves, who launched a deep blast to right field. Shellshocked, Giants fans expected the worst, raising their eyes to the heavens as right fielder Jack Moseley hauled the ball in with his back to the wall, mercifully ending the inning.

Unexpectedly, with the score 8-0 after just two innings, it stayed that way for nearly the entirety of the game. The Giants put runners on here and there, but couldn’t move any of them across.

In the top of the 5th, with Giants center fielder Gavin Soper on first, Trono scorched a ball near third which looked bound to go for extra bases. But Gaucho Wyatt Abramson, playing the line, reached low across his body to pluck the ball from the air, then fired across to first before Soper even had a chance to turn around, doubling him off and ending the inning.

Likewise, the Giants hit into more hard luck in the top of the 6th, as they looked to tee off on Gaucho reliever Brady Laubscher. Leading off, Wells was robbed in right center by Clemmens, who hung onto the ball after falling forward in a frightening near-collision with Rice.

Solle followed with a sizzler that his counterpart, Abramson, couldn’t handle, bringing up Coughlan, who smashed another liner, this time up the middle. Mercado, moving to his right, snatched the ball near the ground, wheeling to first and doubling off Solle, who saw (along with the entire Giants dugout and fans in the stands) the ball hit the ground and was trapped by Mercado, and thus was just a simple force at first.  Mercado had been too late to make a play on Solle in any case. Solle remained on second as the coaches and umps talked it over, but in the end the call stood, and the Giants had been doubled off to retire the side for two innings in a row.

Meanwhile, Giants reliever Chas Veley had been enjoying success against the hot Gaucho bats. Brought in to start the 3rd after the second-inning snowball, Veley faced the heart of the Gaucho order, striking out Clemmens and Rice, and limiting Summers and Cruz to a walk and groundout, respectively.

Over four innings pitched, Veley allowed no runs on one hit, striking out four and walking three, quite a contrast to the start of the game, and a welcome break for the scorekeepers. The Giants defense helped out as well, with Solle racing back along the left field line for a dazzling over-the-shoulder catch of Sullivan’s popup in the bottom of the 4th.

In the top of the 7th, the Giants loaded the bases, starting with Resnick’s second plunking of the game (and tenth of the year), followed by a single, fielder’s choice and walk. Down to their last out of the season, the Giants avoided a shutout when Giacomini fielded Trono’s grounder, but threw the potential game-ending out in the dirt past Cruz, scoring Resnick and Moseley, and making the score 8-2.

That was it, though, as Giacomini got another chance on Wells’s grounder, sending this one across accurately enough to end the game.

The Giants close out their season 19-9, having placed second in the MCAL during the regular season, and making it to the semifinals of the NCS, by all accounts exceeding expectations for the season, and setting the table for a successful 2024.

Coughlan ends the year leading the team in batting average, at .342, followed by Solle at .337 and Tyler Sofnas at .327. Of their 209 hits on the year, almost 90% were singles, making their winning percentage all the more impressive, and proving the necessity of disciplined play and tight defense, as they eked out the majority of their wins with smallball.

On the mound, Minty finished the year 10-2, with 82 strikeouts to just 13 walks, and was named MCAL Pitcher of the Year, leading the MCAL in wins, and tying RJ Meyn of De la Salle for first in the NCS. Contrary to Meyn, though, who doesn’t bat or play another position, Minty led the Giants at the plate in on-base percentage, at .457, and played an outstanding first base throughout the year, with a fielding percentage of .951.

Solle, meanwhile, struck out 110 batters to lead the MCAL, with an ERA of 1.24 to Minty’s 1.28. Minty’s 82 strikeouts ranked #2 in the MCAL, while the #3 pitcher, Kaiden Dossa of Tam, sat far behind at 69.

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