4/18/23: A couple of big swings made all the difference on Tuesday as the Redwood Varsity Baseball Giants were upended by their crosstown rivals the Marin Catholic Wildcats, in the opener of their critical two-game regular-season series.
The sun was shining brightly at Bishop Thomas A. Daly Field, as the Giants and Wildcats, standing at #1 and #2 in the MCAL respectively, got things going in front of a sizeable crowd. The Wildcats’ behemoth starter, 6’7” Liam “LJ” Smith, seemed vulnerable early, as the Giants’ top of the order – second baseman Theo Trono and third baseman Rex Solle – both hit the ball hard to Wildcat center fielder Maddox Thompson. Next up, Redwood starter Rory Minty drew a walk.
Giants catcher Rory Coughlan, batting in the cleanup spot, stood in and watched Smith’s first pitch skip through the knees of Wildcat catcher Jake Lyalls. Minty hadn’t been going on the pitch, but took off from first as soon as he saw the passed ball. Lyalls, seemingly employing a familiar homefield trick, spun and immediately took the ball off the carom from the all-too-near backstop, delivering a perfect strike to Wildcat shortstop Carl Schmidt, who dropped a feisty tag on Minty to retire the side and leave Coughlan hanging. Apparently, nothing would come easily for the Giants today.
Both teams’ bats stayed quiet until the bottom of the 2nd, when right fielder Brad Burnes led things off for the Wildcats. With the infield playing back, Burnes popped a high foul ball on the first base side which looked like it might *just* stay in play over by the Wildcat dugout. Giants first baseman Ben Resnick, after a long run over, dived dangerously in the area as the ball came down, but couldn’t make the play.
A minute later, he probably wished he had, as Burnes lofted the very next pitch high in the air toward the left field foul pole. Giants left fielder Tyler Sofnas sized it up, looking like he would make a play, but ran out of room against the 300’ sign as the ball just cleared the wall – the first home run of any kind against the Giants in 19 games this year. As an aside, trusted sources allege that that wall stands only 285’ from home plate, but the 300’ sign was created by the Wildcats as a size inflation intimidation tactic.
After Burnes’s successive balls along the left and right field lines, the Wildcats began hitting Minty up the middle. Lyall hit a deep fly to center which Gavin Soper corralled, followed by Smith, who smacked a single back through the middle, nearly knocking Minty’s hat off.
Wildcat DH Spencer Wheels followed with a ball in nearly the same spot, but this time, Giants shortstop Danil Wells was playing him a step closer up the middle. Wells laid out – his glove nearly touching second base – for a spectacular catch on Wheels, then hopped up to try and double Smith off at first.
Wells’s throw skipped past Resnick and into the Wildcat dugout and out of play, just as Smith was arriving back to first. After some confusion on the field, the umpires awarded Smith two bases, waving him to third amid howls of protest from the Redwood side.
Wildcat second baseman Jude Baker, next up, hit another ball back up the middle – a looping line drive over second base which Wells intercepted with a running leap, pulling Minty and the Giants out of the inning.
The Giants couldn’t respond in their next at-bat, nor most of the game, as they repeatedly hit the ball softly to the left side or back to the pitcher for easy outs (a total of 13 times in the game).
The Wildcats threatened again in the bottom of the 3rd, with the help of another odd call. Third baseman Miguel Lopez led off with a flare into left field, just over Wells’s outstretched glove (a rare ball which Wells couldn’t reach), followed by Thompson taking a Minty curveball on the wrist, putting runners on first and second with no outs.
Schmidt then topped a grounder to Wells for the force at second, but was called safe at first, as Resnick couldn’t handle Trono’s throw, putting runners on first and third with one out. But wait – had Schmidt just run into Resnick and interfered with the play? If that were the case, Schmidt should be out. Head Coach Mike Firenzi came out to discuss with the umpires, as it seemed that it was Schmidt’s obligation to avoid Resnick on the play. However, each umpire told Firenzi to ask the other, and neither wanted to make that judgement, which left the Redwood side frustrated, with only one out and the dangerous Wildcat hitters left fielder Jayden Lee and Burnes coming to bat.
Lee did hit the ball hard up the middle, but fortunately within Wells’s range, for another exciting pick that normally would have scored Lopez, but instead held both runners. Energized by the support behind him, Minty then bore down and fanned Burnes on a high fastball, retiring the side to huge cheers from the Giants fans, and keeping the score 1-0.
The Giants finally got something going with one out in the top of the 4th, as Smith walked Minty again, and Coughlan pushed him forward with a line drive single to right field. Wells followed with what looked like a beautiful sacrifice bunt out in front of the plate, advancing the runners to second and third. But it did seem a curious call to sacrifice with one out.
Turns out that Firenzi had called on Wells, one of the best bunters on a team full of them, to drag a bunt for a hit, and that “beautiful sacrifice” bunt had been merely a missed execution. Smith then fanned Giants right fielder Jack Moseley to quash the rally and retire the side.
The Giants had a moment in the top of the 5th, when Sofnas’ squib, rolling like a bunt along the third base line, began to turn foul, then *decided to reverse course* as it reached the line. Lopez stood over the ball in disbelief, as it settled in fair territory, well after Sofnas had already crossed first base. The reversal seemed an omen that the game was turning the Giants’ way, but alas, two more weak grounders and a strikeout couldn’t score Sofnas in the inning.
The Wildcats padded their lead in the bottom of the 5th. Lopez, still irked by the lack of cooperation from the left field line, dropped his own ball down the right field line, where Moseley made a great play to race over and hold him to a single. Thompson then raked a single to center field, putting runners on first and second with no outs. Sensing opportunity, the Wildcats sent speedy Bennett Hadd in to run for Lopez. The score was still 1-0.
Minty, under pressure again, battled Schmidt to a full count, while Schmidt was fouling off pitch after pitch (six in total). On the eleventh pitch of the at-bat, Schmidt blasted a ball up against the left-center field wall. Sam Gersch, now in for Sofnas, chased the ball down and started a textbook relay to the plate. Hadd had scored, but there was still a chance to catch Thompson.
The play was close, and Wells’s throw was on the money. But as Thompson slid, and Coughlan’s tag came down, the ball appeared on the ground just behind the plate. Thompson had either been a hair ahead of the tag, or he had kicked it out of Coughlan’s glove, but either way, the run scored, and the Wildcats were now up 3-0, with no outs and the heart of their order coming up.
Riled up now, Minty got Lee on a shallow popup to Soper, then fanned Burnes and Lyalls in quick succession to end the inning. It was an impressive display, but the damage had been done.
Giants bats never did come alive, even in the 7th when Smith gave way to Schmidt on the mound. Schmidt, serving up nothing but center-cut fastballs, got two weak comebackers and a grounder to 3rd to close out the game. Somehow fittingly, yet annoyingly to Redwood fans, it was Burnes, who had started the scoring with his 286’ home run, then moved in to third with the pitching change, who handled the last out of the game.
The Giants get another crack at the Wildcats at home on Friday, before kicking off their home and away series with the Novato Hornets next Tuesday.
With the loss, the Giants move to 14-5 on the year (9-2 MCAL). They maintain a 1-game lead over the Wildcats (7-2) in the MCAL standings. Minty suffered the first loss of his outstanding senior campaign, and is now at 8-1 for the year.