SACRAMENTO — Following a disastrous first inning, Marshall Swift trudged to the dugout with one thought in his mind: "It was still early. That was a positive."
That was the best that could be said after East Union High's junior allowed nine runs during a 25-minute first inning Tuesday.
"I was frustrated with myself and my team, but we never gave up on each other," Swift said. "I knew we had a comeback in us."
It turned out to be a comeback of historic proportions, as EU rallied from a nine-run deficit for a shocking 12-10 victory over Bear River and its ace, Vince Viola.
That sends EU (15-10) into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV final, to face Valley Oak League rival Oakdale (24-3) on Monday at noon. The game is scheduled for McAullife Field, where the first three rounds have been played.
While Swift had been a reliable pitcher this season, bringing in a 5-3 record with 3.85 ERA, Viola had been masterful. He was 9-1 with a 0.88 ERA, and had finished each of his last five starts.
With Bear River needing a win to force a decisive third game — EU surprised the Pioneer Valley League champ 6-4 in Saturday's series opener — it seemed inconceivable that EU could rally.
As quickly as the Lancers gave up nine runs, they got right back in it with an eight-run second, knocking Viola out the game.
The big hit was Kurt Johnson's three-run double to left-center, which brought EU to within 9-8.
That rally convinced EU coach Dan Triglia to stick with Swift.
"My decision was based on his body language," Triglia said. "I was ready to go with Rick Inderbitzen, a sophomore, until I saw Marshall had his bounce back."
The diminutive Swift dominated the final six innings, allowing just three hits. He struck out the final two batters, mesmerizing the first with a two-strike slider and the other with a fastball that began in the middle and ended up catching the outside corner.
Swift was as amazed as anyone that he was around at the end.
"I'm not the sort of the guy who is going to overpower you with my fastball," the 135-pound right-hander said. "I need to work the plate, be smart with my pitches and keep the hitters guessing."
Even so, the Lancers still needed another big inning if they were going to sweep the series.
They got it in the fourth, when Garret Fisher homered to get EU within 10-9. Later, with the bases full, John Campa's double off the left-field fence scored all three runners to give EU a 12-10 lead.
"The way we're hitting, I knew we had it in us" said Triglia, noting the Lancers scored double digits twice the last week of the season to clinch a playoff berth.
EU lost to Oakdale 11-0 and 10-0 in league play, but Triglia said that was a different team.
"I've never been in a game like this, and we need to take this excitement into Monday," he said. "It's a challenge, Oakdale's pitching is awfully good, but the kids showed they can do anything."
Bee staff writer Richard T. Estrada can be reached at email@example.com or call 578-2300.