3/16/23:  The Redwood Varsity Baseball Giants spun an instant classic at home against their crosstown rivals the Tamalpais Red-Tailed Hawks, rallying from behind three times in dramatic fashion, and eventually walking them off 6-5 in the bottom of the 9th.

The Hawks arrived at Moody Field with a not so fond memory from last year , having been knocked out of the MCAL playoffs by Redwood (also by the score of 6-5). They brought their ace to the mound, 2022 All-MCAL pitcher Tyler Buxton, who held the Giants to three hits over his first four innings, including striking out the side in the 4th. Unfortunately for Buxton, however, his mastery would not last much beyond that.

On the hill for the Giants was Jerry Omara – from Kampala – who held Tam to one run and two hits on 3 2/3 innings of work, but was also a bit too effectively wild, issuing five walks.

The Hawks got on the board right away, as leadoff hitter Kalden Dossa (another 2022 All-MCAL selection, at shortstop) walked and stole second, scoring on a single by Hawk center fielder Carson Frame, despite a strong throw by Redwood’s own center fielder Gavin Soper. With runners now on first and second, the Giants escaped further damage when third baseman Rex Solle picked a screamer from Buxton off of his left shoelace, throwing over to a leaping Theo Trono at second base to double off Hawk DH Charlie Blau.

In the bottom of the 2nd, Giants shortstop Danil Wells led off by laying down a perfect bunt single, a foreshadowing of heroics to come. Wells advanced to second on a soft grounder to Dossa, then to third on a balk by Buxton, but was left stranded when Hawk third-baseman Tito Feirsten, playing in, was able to reach DH Quinn Miller’s tapper and throw him out to retire the side.

In the top of the 4th, Omara’s fifth walk ushered in reliever Chas Veley, who caught Dossa looking with a fastball on the outside corner to get the Giants out of the inning. In the top of the 5th, however, two walks and a hit batsman later, Veley gave way to sophomore Matt Knauer with two outs and runners on second and third.

Knauer waleked his first two batters to force in a run, making it 2-0 Tam. With the bases still loaded, Redwood held their collective breath when Feirsten shot a line drive into right center, then exhaled when Soper arrived on the run, making the catch for out number three.

The Redwood got to the highly-touted Buxton in the bottom of the 5th, starting with a Soper single up the middle. But was then caught stealing at second.  Buxton then proceeded to walk pinch-hitter Wyatt Turkington, then allow a single up the middle by Giants right fielder Jack Moseley, before Trono advanced them both with a soaring sacrifice fly down the right field line.

With two outs and Solle at the plate, Buxton uncorked a wild pitch to score Turkington and break the shutout, then hitting Solle to put runners on first and third, bringing first baseman Rory Minty to the plate. Minty, a 2022 second-team All-MCAL pitcher himself, stood in and watched as Buxton released two more wild pitches, scoring Moseley and Solle, and handing Redwood the lead 3-2. 

The Hawks refused to collapse further, though. After a leadoff walk in the top of the 6th led to Solle coming on in relief, Wells shined on defense, making a circus play on Dossa’s smash up the middle. Fully extended three feet off the ground, Wells snow-coned the high hop, somehow bouncing up and wheeling into a beautiful feed to Trono at second, who nearly turned a 6-4-3 double play.

Dossa, having reached safely, stole second before advancing to third on Hawk second baseman Colin Lam’s grounder to Trono for out number two. Blau’s rocket into the gap in left-center scored Dossa to tie the game at 3-3, and would have scored another too, had it not been for Wells’s magic. Putting a bookend on his inning in the field, Wells quashed Blau’s attempted steal of second, taking catcher Ben Resnick’s strong throw on the short hop, and slapping a nifty tag on the sliding Blau to retire the side. 

The game remained knotted into the 7th, with reliever Max Paul standing in for the Giants. Frame raked Paul’s first pitch well into right center, but the ever-alert Soper raced over to make the catch. Buxton, however, laced a ball which even Soper couldn’t reach, bouncing a double off the wall near the ‘350’ sign. 

In a replay of the previous day against San Marin, Wells picked lead runner Buxton, taking Hawk first baseman Colin Day’s grounder and throwing ahead to Solle (now back at third base) for out number two. Day – now representing the go-ahead run – then stole second, moving to third on a passed ball. With the infield in, Fiersten then sent Hawk fans into a frenzy with a grounder into right field, regaining the lead 4-3. Again, were it not for Wells’s heads-up play, the lead would have been greater. 

Down by a run, in the bottom of the 7th, Redwood’s top of the order came out fighting against Hawk reliever Dossa, whose over-the-top delivery took some getting used to. Trono figured it out quickly, dropping a single into left field, while Solle watched a few  curveballs go by before slapping his own single into the hole.

Minty’s fly ball into left center couldn’t advance the runners, but Resnick worked a walk to load the bases. The free pass was especially delightful to Redwood fans, as Dossa – apparently fearful of the speedy Trono and Solle (representing the tying and winning runs, respectively) – had made a total of ten pickoff attempts on them in the inning, and now had advanced them on his own.

With one out, Wells stood in, lofting the first pitch he saw deep enough into right field to score Trono and tie the game, 4-4, while also advancing Solle to third. Resnick held at first, but quickly stole second, raising the pressure on Dossa with two outs and the winning run 90 feet away.  Unfortunately for rhe Giants, Dossa picked that moment to find his groove, striking out Sofnas to end the 7th, and sending the game into extra innings.

Both teams went quietly in the 8th, as if taking a breather late in a boxing match, receiving treatment in their respective corners before coming out for the final round. And the Hawks came out punching in the top of the 9th. Giants reliever Resnick, making his first appearance of the year, decided to follow Coach Firenzi’s pitching advice: “Throw strikes and let your defense make the plays.”

Tam seemed to approve of this philosophy, as Frame sent Moseley back with a deep fly ball to right, before Buxton continued his redemption bid with a double down the line, well out of Moseley’s reach. Resnick reached back to strike out Day for out number two, but Hawk left fielder Mike Gensler wouldn’t cooperate, slashing a double down the left field line to score Buxton, and propelling Tam into the lead for the third time, 5-4. Wells helped Resnick out of the inning with a fine play on Fiersten’s sinking liner. Sizing up the trajectory, Wells decided not to take the ball on the hop, instead falling forward and stretching towards the infield grass to make the catch on the fly.

The bottom of the 9th arrived with Dossa still on the hill, and daylight fading fast. Down to their last at bat once again, the Giants knew that it was now or never. Solle set the tone with a single up the middle, promptly stealing second, and ratcheting up the pressure yet again on Dossa, who  grazed Minty’s jersey, sending Minty to first.

With two men on and no outs, power hitter Resnick surprised the crowd with a sacrifice bunt, putting both the tying and winning runs into scoring position, and bringing Wells to the plate. With the infield in, tension high, and Solle dancing and feinting off of third base on every pitch, Wells worked the count full. It was then that Firenzi picked his moment to strike.

As Dossa delivered the payoff pitch, Solle came crashing down the line on a classic squeeze play. Wells squared to bunt, dropping the ball eight feet in front of the plate, where only Dossa could make the play.

Racing in, Dossa leaned down with his glove hand and shoveled the ball towards Hawk catcher Tristan Diecks, who was steeling himself for the imminent arrival of Solle, the tying run. Runner, ball and catcher all converged at the plate in a blur, and before anyone could tell exactly what had happened, the ball was seen dribbling off to the third base side, all the way to the backstop. The score was definitely tied.

All eyes turned to Minty, who had been following Solle the whole time on the squeeze, and who now saw the unexpected chance to continue home and score the winning run, which he did uncontested. Dossa, standing at the plate in hopes of a last-second play which never materialized, put his head down, turned and walked away, while the Redwood bench emptied onto the field, their whoops and hollers piercing the dusk. The final score stood 6-5.

With the win, Redwood improves to 7-1 (3-0 MCAL), approximately one-third of the way through the 2023 regular season. Next up: the Giants and Hawks go at it again tomorrow in Mill Valley. Could it be another epic clash? Then, next Tuesday, the Giants hop over the hill to visit the Bulldogs of San Rafael.

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