4/7/23  Missing the mojo they had mustered the previous day against Foothill, the Redwood Varsity Baseball Giants dropped the second game of their 3-day East Bay tournament (The “Service Champions Classic Tournament”) to their marauding northern rivals, the San Marin Mustangs.

It was a frustrating loss for the Giants, who wasted another strong mound appearance by starting pitcher Rex Solle. Solle went the distance, allowing only two hits, and fanning 12 Mustangs against two walks. Solle did uncage two wild pitches and hit a batter, but overall held the Mustangs at bay.

The game turned on a handful of key plays. Through 3 ½ innings, neither team had threatened, with each team having generated only one infield hit, and with Solle fanning 8 Mustangs through the top of the 4th.

Solle led off for the Giants in the bottom of the 4th with a chopper up the middle which glanced off the glove of Mustang starting pitcher Sean McGrath, then off the glove of Mustang second baseman Joey Cipollini. In any case, the leadoff runner was aboard. Coach Firenzi then sent in sophomore Matthew Knauer to run for Solle.

Giants’ first baseman Rory Minty slapped a single into right field, and, when Holtz booted the ball, it became clear that third base was Knauer’s for the taking. All eyes shifted back to the basepath. Knauer had stumbled somewhere along the way, and didn’t seem able to right himself. Staggering, bear-walking, and ultimately crawling the last 10 feet, Knauer looked certain to be pegged out at third. But somehow, Mustang third baseman Erik Bach missed the throw, allowing Knauer to reach safely with a final, exhausted stretch of his arm.

With runners now on first and third, and shortstop Danil Wells, one of the club’s premier bunters, up next, Firenzi decided he would strike preemptively, and called the squeeze to get on the board. Wells squared around to bunt. McGrath, hearing the shouts of “Bunt” during his windup, uncorked a fastball headed straight towards Wells’s face.

Wells, to his credit, somehow got the bat on the ball while spinning back to avoid the beanball, and even though the pitch hit his right index finger, managed to bunt it fair out in front of the plate. The play surely would be close at home… but wait… where was Knauer?

Apparently exhausted from his recent odyssey from second to third, Knauer was not at the plate, scoring the first run of the game, but instead remained safely at third, while Wells was thrown out at first base, injured finger and all. Minty, meanwhile, advanced to second base on the play.

Next up, Gavin Soper bounced a grounder to Mustang first baseman Hayden Devol. This time, Knauer broke for the plate, but Devol’s throw was in time for the tag. The score remained 0-0 through four innings.

Devol led off the top of the 5th with one of Solle’s two walks for the game, advancing to second on a Bach single and to third on a wild pitch. With runners on second and third, Mustang left fielder Jake Simpson cracked a line drive up the middle.

While fans held their breath, the ball *just* cleared a leaping Theo Trono at second base, so close that it appeared to skip off of Trono’s glove, allowing Devol to start the scoring at 1-0 Mustangs.

With runners on first and third, Mustang second baseman Joey Cipollini laid down a sacrifice bunt just a bit too hard down the first base line. Minty was able to field the ball at depth, and slap a tag on Cipollini, all the while holding Bach at third.  Apparently, the Mustangs weren’t as familiar as the Giants regarding squeeze plays.

That point was rendered moot, however, by the next batter – Mustang center fielder and tormentor-in-chief of the Giants at the plate this season – Josh Martin. Martin hit a high chopper over Solle’s head – a ball which took a while to descend to Trono – while Bach took off towards the plate. Trono grabbed the ball and fired home to Giants catcher Ben Resnick just ahead of Bach, but the throw was high! Resnick leaped to catch Trono’s peg as Bach began his slide, landing on top of Bach and the plate. After catching the ball, Resnick’s foot had clearly caught Bach in the head, before Bach crossed the plate.

Maybe not surprisingly, the umpire ruled that kicking someone in the head does not count as a tag. Bach was safe, and the Mustangs were up 2-0.

The top of the 6th brought a notable moment in the field.  With Mustang shortstop Anthony Scheppler on first base, Devol launched a rocket into right field in the direction of Giants freshman Jack Moseley. Whereas earlier in the year, Moseley had taken his first step in on a similar ball, leading to a costly error, today Moseley’s first step was back.

From his improved position, Moseley was able to size up the trajectory of the ball and take an optimal angle, racing towards the right field line, where he laid out for a spectacular catch, then popped up to double off Scheppler at first. Scheppler had no clue such a catch was possible, and stood on second base holding his jaw off the ground.

Down to their last at bat, the Giants were still down 2-0.  With one out, Resnick walked, advancing to second on a botched pickoff. Third baseman Lucas Ghio then walked to put runners at first and second, and the tying run on base. Mosely then cracked a single to load the bases for the top of the order and chase McGrath.

Mustang right fielder John Holtz trotted in in relief, and got Trono to ground to second, for what looked like a potential game-ending double-play. However, Cipollini booted the ball, then rushed his throw to Scheppler, who then lost the handle as Moseley came charging into second. Resnick scored, making it 2-1, with the tying run seemingly in scoring position, and only one out.

But no, the umps conferred to rule Moseley out at second, and that Cipollini had controlled the ball for the out, then lost it on the exchange. The Giants were now down to their final out, with runners on first and third.

Hope sprung eternal though, for Redwood fans, as Solle arrived at the plate – the same Solle who had sent a ball over the fence the day before. The same Solle who had just thrown 98 pitches and allowed only two Mustang hits, and certainly deserved to win this game.

With two strikes, two outs, in the bottom of the 7th, Solle connected, sending a ball soaring into left field.  But alas, there would be no storybook ending to this one for the Giants. The ball descended into Simpson’s glove well shy of the fence, and the Giants had been defeated 2-1.

With the loss, the Giants move to 13-3 on the year (still 8-1 MCAL, as tournament games don’t count towards MCAL standings).  They next face the College Park Falcons of Pleasant Hill tomorrow, who lost today to Serra of San Mateo, 7-4.

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