The Gregori High baseball team has sailed into uncharted waters and will face a true monster of the sea: St. Mary’s, a perennial Division I South champion.
But make no mistake, the Jaguars have high expectations this postseason. That vibe permeated Wednesday’s postgame celebration at the University of the Pacific’s Klein Family Field following Gregori’s 3-1 victory over Lodi.
Junior Julian Favela struck out 12 batters, overcoming three walks and a plunked batter, and commended the Flames for putting heat on the second-seeded Jaguars.
“We came into this game thinking we were going to blow them out,” Favela said. “We didn’t think this game would be that close, but their lefty pitcher did really good. He did phenomenal actually, and he held us to a close game.”
Lodi was beaten convincingly in its first two meetings with the Modesto Metro Conference champion, but drew first blood in the elimination game. The Flames jumped ahead 1-0 in the second inning on a high chopper by Alex Estrada.
The Jaguars responded with two runs in the bottom half of the inning. Matt Rhodes and Tyler Vandemark produced RBI doubles to opposite corners of the collegiate complex as the Jaguars advanced to the final four for the first time in program history.
“You learn how they respond after mistakes, especially defensive mistakes that happen,” Davis said. “We drop that infield fly ball and boot what possibly could have been a double-play ball. Watching our kids respond, they didn’t get on each other. It wasn’t negative. The body language was positive.
“Especially high school kids, sometimes they can get disappointed with a moment like that, in the spotlight they’re in right now. But our kids didn’t let it affect them at all. They went to the next pitch, picked each other up, and as a coach, that’s all you can ask for.”
Gregori (27-1) will “host” the third-seeded Rams (18-9) Monday at 4 p.m at Klein Family Field. Top-seeded Tracy (22-4), the 2016 finalist, will play No. 5 Pitman (19-9) in the other quarterfinal at 7 p.m.
Tracy defeated No. 9 El Capitan of Merced in a thrilling extra-inning game Thursday evening. Behind a complete-game gem from Brett Hagen, Pitman dispatched Bear Creek, 5-1.
St. Mary’s has represented the South in the D-I final in eight of the last 10 years and sent a chilling message to the rest of the field in their tournament opener.
Chandler Sanguinetti drove in three runs and earned the win, a 15-4 triumph over Central California Conference co-champion Turlock. Ramil Pinzon also had four RBI, including the knockout punch. Pinzon greeted Turlock’s relief pitcher with a bases-clearing triple as the Rams exploded for eight runs in the first inning.
Gregori watched the rout from the stands.
“At the end of the day, it’s the furthest we’ve been as a program,” Davis said. “We’ve gone to this game, but never gone beyond this game. Everything we’re doing now is a first. We’re moving onto double elimination (Monday) against one of the traditional powerhouses in our section. They’re outstanding program. (Coach Rob Selna) does a great job and he has an outstanding staff. Our kids are excited for the challenge.”
The Jaguars were the picture of perfection through the first two months of the season, winning their first 26 games, the Mark Dickens Invitational and Modesto Metro Conference.
It took time, but the region took notice. Gregori climbed to No. 9 in Cal-Hi Sports’ state poll and ranked among the section’s leaders in hitting and pitching.
However, an ugly 10-0 loss to Bear Creek, the San Joaquin Athletic Association champion and No. 4 seed, on the eve of the seeding committee meeting cast doubt over the Jaguars, and reinforced the stakes in the postseason.
Games – and section titles – aren’t won with accolades and rankings, but pitching, timely hitting and clean baseball.
“The intensity, the importance of every pitch, the importance of every at-bat and every ball in play, everything becomes amplified,” Davis said. “Mistakes count. We were fortunate, we made two or three defensive mistakes, but we pitched out of every jam. Favela threw his tail off today.”