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December 5, 2022

Baseball: Balers ring the Bells, back in CCS title game

The San Benito and St. Francis baseball teams will play after all. The two perennial Central Coast Section powers had a game scheduled in the first week of the season only to have it rained out. The game never got made up, and it looked as if it wasn’t going to—until now.
The No. 7 seed Haybalers and No. 5 seed Lancers meet for the Open Division playoff championship Saturday at 7 p.m. at San Jose Municipal Stadium. San Benito (19-7) defeated Bellarmine 3-0 on Wednesday in one semifinal, and St. Francis (25-8) edged Carlmont in the other semifinal.
“If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best,” said Josh Harris, who drove in the Balers’ third and final run of the game against Bellarmine with a single in the bottom of the fifth inning. “We’re excited for the challenge to try to take down St. Francis.”
San Benito is in a section title game for the first time since 2012, when it lost to Valley Christian 3-1 in the Division I final. A year earlier, the Balers lost to Palo Alto 5-4 in the championship game. Under sixth-year coach Billy Aviles, the Balers have reached a section championship game three times and the semifinals four times, a string of success that rivals that of any program in the section.
Despite a rich tradition, the Balers have never won a CCS title in baseball, in part because out of all the team sports, they have the toughest draw including the best public schools but also the vaunted teams from the West Catholic League as well.
“This is the biggest challenge, the game we look forward to,” Aviles said.
Indeed, what would it mean for San Benito to be able to bring home the school’s first-ever CCS championship?
“It would mean everything,” said Harris, who had a bases-clearing double to help propel the team to a 7-0 win over Palma in the quarterfinals. “We’ve been preparing for this moment all our lives. It’s great to be on a team like this, where everything is clicking and everyone has chemistry.”
The Balers knocked off Bellarmine in the postseason for the second time in as many years. A year ago, San Benito ripped the Bells 13-3 in a game that was called after five innings due to the mercy rule. The rematch proved to be much closer, but the end result was the same.
That’s because Balers pitcher Diego Fisher was his usual self, utilizing a fastball, curveball and change-up with devastating results. The left-hander went the distance, allowing just four hits—all singles—while never allowing a baserunner past second base.
It was pure domination from a player who along with fellow ace Tyler Triano has been remarkably spectacular all season. In fact, Aviles said Fisher and Triano have literally thrown only a couple of bad pitches all season. Afterward, Aviles gave the lineup card to Fisher before saying, “Put a frame on that one bud.”
Fisher was a little nervous to open the game, only natural considering the environment and the stakes. However, it didn’t take Fisher long to get in a groove, and the Bells didn’t have a chance.
“Once I came out there, I knew I had to dominate,” Fisher said. “We just stuck to our game plan, and obviously it worked out today. It’s going to be really special to try to bring a title to San Benito. We’re going to do everything we can to win.”
Aviles wasn’t surprised in the least that Fisher was able to dominate a tough Bellarmine lineup.
“Diego kept on competing in the strike zone, and maintained his composure,” Aviles said. “Pitching and defense wins championships. We are very fortunate our pitchers compete in the strike zone and never let up.”
When San Benito lost to Palma 4-2 on May 10 and fell to Santa Teresa 3-2 three days later, the team knew it had to produce timely hits. And that’s exactly what the Balers have done, especially Harris, the No. 7 hitter in the lineup who has found his groove after struggling in the middle of the season.
“We’ve stepped it up, and we’re feeling it now,” he said. “Baseball is about being in rhythm, and I can’t explain it (recent run of clutch hits). I knew I had to simplify my swing, and Billy and coach (David) Marquez helped me a lot. I wouldn’t be here without them helping me everyday.”
San Benito got the only run it would need in the third, when Fisher lined a double that fell on the left-field foul line—chalk flew up—to score Tyler Biersdorff, who had led off the inning with a walk. The team’s second run came when Drew Williams hit a single past a drawn-in Bellarmine second baseman to score Davonte Butler, who led off the inning with a single before stealing second and advancing to third on Fisher’s sacrifice bunt.
Now the Balers are a win away from making history.
“It’s the best feeling in the world, to be in the title game,” Fisher said.
Said Harris: “I can’t believe it. We’re stoked to be here.”

Emanuel Lee - Sports Editor
A staff member edited this provided article.

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