3/17/23: A day after outlasting their crosstown rivals in a seesaw, 9-inning fight to the finish, the Redwood Varsity Baseball Giants and starting pitcher Rex Solle delivered the heat on Friday, walking away from the Tam High Red-Tailed Hawks 5-1, and sweeping their season series.
Solle tossed a complete game for his first win of the season, striking out 11 Hawks while allowing just 6 hits and not issuing a single walk. Solle got stronger as the game went on, blowing fastballs through the zone in the bottom of the 7th to strike out the side and end the game.
Things weren’t so clear-cut at the start of Solle’s outing, as Tam loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the 1st. Shortstop Kaldon Dossa led off by raking a single into left field, followed by second baseman Colin Lam’s double into the gap in left center. Solle then proceeded to drill designated hitter Charlie Blau in the back, loading the bases with center fielder Carson Frame striding to the plate.
When Frame launched a ball high and deep into left center, it looked like the Giants were in for a long day. Redwood center fielder Gavin Soper, battling the afternoon sun, scurried back to make an outstanding play just in front of the wall. The ball was plenty deep enough to score Dossa, giving Tam the early lead 1-0, and leaving runners on first and third.
Then, as if Soper’s effort had flipped a switch in Solle’s brain, the junior right-hander stepped up his game, freezing third baseman Tyler Buxton with a curveball on the outside corner, then caught first baseman Colin Day with a changeup to retire the side. The Hawks never threatened again the entire afternoon.
After bunting successfully in key situations throughout the year, and defeating the Hawks the night before on a celebrated squeeze play, it came as no surprise when the Giants began laying it down again to take the lead in the top of the 3rd.
Second baseman Theo Trono, batting left-handed against Hawks starting pitcher Eli Solem, led off by dragging a bunt down the first base line into no-man’s land. Solem reached the ball, then looked up to flip to Day at first, only to discover that Day had joined him in no-man’s land, and that no one was covering the base! The speedy Trono cruised safely across the bag, avoiding Solem’s lunging tag with a dismissive shake of his hips.
Next up, Solle watched as Tam botched a pitchout, a maneuver they had attempted unsuccessfully throughout the past two days. Trying to catch Trono off of first, Hawks catcher Tristan Diecks threw wildly past Day, putting Trono on second.
Solle then caught the Hawks off-guard by bunting down the third base line, forcing an unprepared Buxton to rush a sidearmed throw past Day, allowing Trono to race in and tie the score 1-1. First baseman Rory Minty followed with a single up the middle, and when Frame booted the ball out in center field, Solle came around as well, giving Redwood a lead they would never relinquish.
Solem then plunked DH Ben Resnick, bringing shortstop Danil Wells to the plate with no outs and runners on first and second. Wells, the squeeze hero from the night before, squared around boldly for the Giants’ third bunt of the inning, eliciting glee from the Redwood dugout when Solem fielded the ball on the third base side, then threw it high to Day. Wells crossed first while Day was still in the air leaping for the throw, loading the bases with nobody out.
That was enough for Solem on the day, and the Hawks decided to try their luck with reliever Henry Simpson. Simpson got Giants left fielder Tyler Sofnas to hit a high fly ball to left center, where Frame camped under it for the out, then dropped the ball on the transfer, allowing Minty to score, and making it 3-1.
Simpson seemed to find some kind of rewind button, as he got Soper and catcher Rory Coughlan to fly out to Frame in the exact same spot on successive pitches. Frame didn’t drop the ball again either time, and the runners remained stranded.
Solle continued to pick up steam on the mound, bolstered by a couple of sweet double plays. In the bottom of the 3rd and 5th, Redwood third baseman Lucas Ghio moved to his left to snare Blau’s topspin grounder off the short hop, firing across to Trono to start a 5-4-3 double play and end the inning. Later, in the bottom of the 5th, Solle helped himself by grabbing Lam’s comebacker and wheeling to second, where Wells turned it to Minty for a 1-6-3 sitdown pair.
Meanwhile, the Giants had loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the 5th, but were retired on one of the most unusual doubles plays in recent memory. Hawks reliever Jack Hanna didn’t last long, walking Resnick before unleashing a pair of wild pitches, walking Wells, and hitting Sofnas to load the bases. The Hawks then yanked Hanna for Jonathan Bayler (a former Giant), who got Soper to ground to Day, who chose to get the force at home for out number one.
With the bases still loaded and Wells on third, Coughlan skied a towering popup halfway up the third base line, initiating mass confusion all around. First, Bayler tried to call off his teammates for the catch, before thinking better of it, and leaving the ball to Diecks, who whiffed on the catch, letting the ball land just inside the line. Thinking that another force situation had been created, Wells started home, where Bayler rushed to take a throw from Diecks, but stretched to handle the ball with his foot off the plate. With chaos erupting all around him, Bayler threw back to third to catch Wells, whereupon half of the Hawks began to leave the field, and the other half yelled at them to stay put, because “There are only two outs!” Finally, the ump told them all to get off of the field.
What had happened? As the umps eventually decided, the Infield Fly Rule applied on the play, which meant that Coughlin had been out from the moment he hit the ball the way he did. And because it was an infield fly, runners advance at their own risk, but because Wells had gone, he was now the third out, and Redwood had left three men stranded.
The Giants did manage to pad their lead in the top of the 7th, as Resnick started things off with a hard-hit ball that handcuffed Dossa. Jack Corvi, running for Resnick, took second on yet another beautiful bunt by Wells, then came in to score on a Sofnas single to center, making it 4-1. Soper followed with a ball that caromed off the mound – and Bayler’s foot – to Lam, who threw it away, leaving runners on first and third with one out.
Noting perhaps that every Giants run on the day had been scored or set up on a bunt, Giants Head Coach Mike Firenzi called the squeeze again, sending Corvi, who easily made it 5-1 on Coughlan’s tap down the third base line. A frustrated Buxton fielded the ball, and realizing no one was backing him up at third, turned and won a footrace with Soper, who had seen the same opening, and was understandably trying to advance.
There was no need for extra-inning heroics to finish the Hawks this time, as Solle saved his best for last, striking out the side in the bottom of the 7th, and ending with some serious smoke past Hawk right fielder Tito Fiersten. After opening with 27 pitches in the first inning, Solle had powered through the rest of the game at a rate of 12.5, all the while allowing zero walks.
The third Giants win in three days brings Redwood to 8-1 on the year (4-0 MCAL), and moves Coach Firenzi to 498 wins in his distinguished head coaching career. The Giants will try to add to those totals starting Tuesday, with an away-and-home series again the San Rafael Bulldogs, who currently sit last in the league with a record of 1-7 (0-6 MCAL).