Baseball: Balers come up short in CCS title game

The Valley Christian Warriors celebrate after a 3-run first inning off San Benito starter Jacob Cabral. The Balers fell 3-1 in the championship game for the second-consecutive year at Municipal Stadium in San Jose.

The San Benito High baseball team made two consecutive Central Coast Section championship games, but unfortunately for the Balers, they both ended with the same result: a loss.

San Benito (23-7) was no-hit by Valley Christian’s Cameron Stewart and allowed three first-inning runs and could never recover Saturday, losing to the Warriors 3-1 at San Jose Municipal Stadium in the CCS Division I championship game. The outcome was never seriously in doubt, though, as the Balers failed to gain an offensive threat against Valley Christian’s Stewart, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound senior right-hander.

Stewart was dominant for the Warriors, going all seven innings and striking out five Balers. He allowed only three base runners – all walks – and had only two outs recorded by an outfielder.

“We ran into someone that was really tough on the bump,” head coach Billy Aviles said. “He was the difference. He just spotted all of his pitches well. These kids are young and they aren’t used to seeing a guy 6-9. He just pounded the zone all night. He was the difference.”

For San Benito, starter Jake Cabral ran into trouble early in his short outing. Cabral could only record one out – a strikeout to the game’s first batter – and allowed five-straight singles, allowing the Warriors to jump out to a 3-0 lead.

Warriors’ second baseman Nick McGrew started the scoring, with an RBI single with two on. He advanced to third when left fielder Ryan Jacob bobbled the ball.

Quickly, catcher Colin Warner delivered the game-winning RBIs – with one out in the first inning – with a single to left.

The hit removed Cabral from the game, and sent in Anthony Ocampo, who started Wednesday’s win over St. Francis.

“It was odd,” San Benito third baseman Craig Slibsager said. “Jake just didn’t have his stuff like he had all year. That happens. He has had it all year, but you know, when they scored three runs early they didn’t score the rest of the game. We just didn’t push any runs across.”

The Balers bullpen of Ocampo, Skyler Fuss and Cody Gessel stopped the Warriors from scoring, limiting the Valley Christian opportunities.

“They were lights out,” Aviles said. “Ocampo battled all year. Him and Skyler (Fuss) have been lights out for us.”

Nothing, though, could awake the Balers’ dormant offense.

San Benito, though, responded with one run in the bottom of the first inning after Michael Breen, who reached on a one-out walk, took third on an errant pick-off attempt at first base.

A couple of pitches later, catcher Jacob Tonascia knocked in the Balers only run on a ground ball to the shortstop.

In the next six innings, San Benito sent two more runners to third base, but could never get that much-needed hit.

“He was a good pitcher,” Slibsager said. “We just didn’t grind out at-bats like we had been. We didn’t get enough situations to get something across.”

The loss ends a postseason run that included a walk-off win and two victories over a pair of West Catholic Athletic League teams. But their third WCAL opponent ended up being the Balers’ undoing.

“We played really well baseball for the first three games,” center fielder Josh George said. “That first inning got away from us lust a little bit and we couldn’t battle back. We just had some poor at-bats. I’m very proud of the way we played in the first three games to get here.”

Saturday’s loss stung for the second-straight year, Tonascia said.

“It sucks,” he said. “Especially, to see how bad some of the seniors wanted it – everyone wanted it. And half the town of Hollister was out here to see us. It’s really nice for them to support us. It’s just a terrible feeling. To work so hard all season and just to watch them dogpile at the end, it just drops your heart.”

The postseason run, though, proved the Balers are good enough to win the school’s first CCS championship soon, he said.

“It was a great year,” Tonascia said. “I think this year — after we took down Mitty and St. Francis and getting back here for the second time — it proved to everyone we can hang with these guys. There is no doubt in my mind we are the best public school baseball program around.”

And next year, Aviles expects the team to be back for a third-straight time.

“It makes us hungry,” he said. “It makes me hungrier. Hopefully, it makes the kids hungrier. I’m really proud of the kids. They battled all year long. I’m really proud of the boys.”

It was the third championship game appearance for the Balers since 2007, when they lost 6-2 to Valley Christian. Last year, the Balers lost to Palo Alto 5-4.

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