3/3: In a see-saw contest in Rohnert Park, the varsity Giants started strong and pulled away late for an 11-4 victory over Rancho Cotate.
Nick Welch drew the starting assignment on the mound, and he was dominant, overpowering the Cougars over four innings of work. Welch had full command of his fastball and breaking ball, striking out seven Cougars against a single walk and two hits.
The Giants struck first for four runs in the top of the second. Alex Hagen led off with an opposite field single and Welch moved him to second with a ground ball single to left. Matt Birchenough then singled to center to score Hagen, and Welch exhibited some heads up baserunning by advancing from second to an uncovered third base even though the ball had already been thrown back to the infield. After a Birchenough steal of second, Matt Smalbach drove in Welch with a sac fly to center. Isaak Irmini-Kreft followed with an RBI single to left to score Birchenough. After a Jackson Reed single to right, Lucas Roy completed the inning’s scoring with a single up the middle to plate Irmini-Kreft.
Redwood added a run in the top of the third when Smalbach worked a bases loaded walk to drive in the fifth run of the day for the Giants, and with Welch on cruise control, the game looked to be well in hand for the Giants. But Welch departed after four innings, and with the help of some free passes from the Giants’ relievers and some suboptimal defense, Rancho fought back in the bottom of the fifth.
Rancho had tallied four runs to cut the Giants’ lead to 5-4 and had the bases loaded with one out when coach Mike Firenzi called on Jesse Gassman to restore order. Making his season debut on the mound after recovering from a finger injury, Gassman looked in midseason form, striking out the next two Rancho hitters, including a gutsy comeback from a 3-0 count for a called strike three to end the inning.
The Giants then put the game out of reach in the top of the sixth with a six-run inning highlighted by a suicide squeeze bunt by Jesse Gassman, a two-RBI single by Birchenough, RBI singles from Jake Gassman and Reed and a bases loaded walk by Roy.
Reed, Hagen, Welch, Birchenough, Jake Gassman and Irmini-Kreft each had two hits on the day, and Birchenough led the Giants in RBIs with three. Giants pitchers racked up eleven strikeouts against only three walks.
The Giants wrap up a busy week in the North Bay with a 3:30 pm contest at Vintage High School in Napa on Thursday, March 5.