The sun was beating upon the empty bleachers of the Softball Complex. There were fans and parents watching Will C. Wood and Elk Grove open the Division II softball playoffs, but they were tucked up the spotty areas of shade. A few brave souls tried convenient close-in seats near the action but that didn't last very long. Still others were smart and brought an umbrella for artificial shade.
Despite all that Elk Grove found a way to win its do-or-die game against this MEL opponent in the Wildcats. It took nine innings before Elk Grove uncorked a five-run outburst and defeated Wood, 8-3.
"It was warm and we went through two 35-packs of water, but we had no heat issues and the kids hung in there," assistant coach Jeff Alexander said.
The Herd breathed a sigh of relief for their season almost ended in the seventh. In fact, Elk Grove was down to its final strike of the year. But, stepping up was sophomore Ally Hale. With two outs and two strikes on her with a potential tying run on second, Hale took a pitch a bit outside from Wood hurler Sarah Moorhead and slapped it down the left field line for a double that scored Jazmine Moreno from second and the game went into extras.
"I admire the way she swings the bat," Alexander said. "She uses the whole diamond well, likes to pull the ball, but she's not stupid to try to pull a ball which was off the plate, like that last one, and took that put it right down the third base line. The third baseman's eyes went, 'Oh, God.' She was giving us the line, late in the game, and it went right over the bag. It was a seeing-eye double."
Jazmine Moreno, who had a game-winning double in the ninth inning|
A second hero was pitcher Courtney Riley who went the distance and scattered nine hits, striking out nine and walking no one. She drove in Elk Grove's first two runs with a first inning double and tacked on an RBI single in the ninth.
Riley claimed she ignored the heat but in the middle of the fifth inning she joined a few fans under the trees to gulp down a bottle of water. Cooled down, she returned to the circle and did quite well.
The third star went to Moreno, the Elk Grove catcher, whose double knocked in two eventual winning runs in the ninth inning. She had three hits on the day.
Alexander wants to see now more consistency from his team.
"We continue to show up, disappear, show up, disappear," he lamented. "If the starting nine, ten, eleven bring their bats and show up we'll run with (Rocklin)."
The Herd will now go on to face Rocklin, the top seed in Division II softball, at 6 p.m. Friday as the tournament now becomes a double-elimination set-up.
There is no one of the Haggin Oaks' Golf Links, set just south of the Softball Complex. One can understand why; the external thermometer reads 98 degrees and it's now 6:30 p.m. On to City College and hopefully arrive in time for Elk Grove baseball and its opening round game with Granite Bay. Must stop for a Suzie burger just off the P Street exit from Business 80 - and a Dr. Pepper. Filled and thirst quenched, onto the highway south. Sacramento fire crews are responding to what looks like a grass fire behind the sound wall near the 12th Ave. exit. Smoke slows traffic.
Now to the west on 12th Ave/Sutterville Rd. and to City College. Parking is tight. Graduation ceremonies are underway in Hughes Stadium.
Maybe it was the fact Granite Bay was beaten twice on Championship Saturday last year by Elk Grove for the Division I North title, but the Grizzlies and head coach Pat Esposito, especially, seemed really wound tight. The opening round game at Union Stadium was frequently stopped by Esposito and his coaches questioning calls by umpires.
Not to be undone was Elk Grove's Jeff Carlson - always known to work the guys in blue - as he let his observation be made known.
Set aside a couple calls - or the interpretation of a play - and there was quite a pitching duel and well played game. Elk Grove, behind lefty Alex Zalasky, defeated the Grizzlies, 3-2, to advance into the double-elimination part of the post-season Saturday at noon against Jesuit.
Carlson breathed a sigh of relief that a couple calls made by the umpires didn't come back to haunt the Herd in the end.
"If one thing would have gone wrong, an error or whatever, and your season is over and you go home," he said. "You work hard all year long, win the league, and then you come out and lose a game and your season can be over real quick."
But, Carlson went the distance with his ace lefty to get the one-run win.
"He did a great job and had allowed only three hits up to the last inning," Carlson said. "He did a great job just like he's done all year. It was a classic, playoff outstanding job."
Zalasky threw a five hitter, striking out five and walking two.
Alex Zalasky, a complete game win for Elk Grove Weds.|
One call Esposito asked for was on Josh Urps' sacrifice fly in the second inning. Ryan Robards tagged and scored from third in the fly ball and Riley Lamb who was on first returned to the bag, but Esposito claimed he passed second base and didn't re-tag the bag on his return. That had both coaches out on the infield pleading their case. The umps let Robards score stand.
In the fifth inning the Herd loaded the bases and Urps ground ball went to the Grizzlies' third baseman who threw home to force one runner. A relay throw to first sailed over first baseman Darren Nelson and went down the right field line. All Elk Grove baserunners scored, but Esposito came out to claim the throw that went awry went out of play under the fence in the right field corner. The guys in blue agreed and put Urps on second and Robards on third and, thus, only one run scored.
"The rule is that when a ball goes out of play you get two bases," Carlson said. "They claim Ryan wasn't at second base when the ball was thrown. I don't know, he had a lead, he was pretty fast, he set a touchdown record for Elk Grove. But, my issue is why does the outfielder go down to make a play on the ball, all of a sudden his hands come up?"
"He kicked the ball and every runner should have scored," Carlson claimed.
Pleasant Grove coach Dan Boyle thanked me for naming him Delta League Coach of the Year. He deserved it, I told him so. I hope the school rehires him. I am hearing Rob Rinaldi may return to the job. Either way, the Eagles will have a good coach in 2017.
The delta breeze has come up. It's much cooler only 78 degrees now at 9:15 p.m. Forecast calls for 80s on Thursday.
More playoff action coming up Thursday: Sheldon vs. Woodcreek in baseball at 4 p.m. Sheldon softball opens Division I action at 4 p.m. at the Softball Complex against Chavez, followed by Franklin at 6 p.m.
Congrats to Bradshaw Christian soccer. The Pride plays for the Division VI championship Saturday after a 1-0 win over Modesto Christian on Wednesday. Bradshaw will face Argonaut at 10 a.m. at Cosumnes Oaks H.S.