SANTA CLARA — The St. Ignatius baseball team played like a it had a 44-year-old gorilla on its back against Serra in the West Catholic Athletic League championship game on Thursday at Santa Clara University’s Stephen Schott Stadium.
The Wildcats, who have not won a WCAL tournament title since the league began play in 1968, committed eight errors in the game and allowed six unearned runs in a 7-2 loss.
The win gives Serra (18-12) its 16th WCAL title, the most of any school in the league.
“I mentioned yesterday that our margin of error was going to be zero today and we blew it,” St. Ignatius coach Matthew Stecher said. “We gave up six unearned runs and it was 7-2. We made way too many mistakes and could not come back from them.”
Two of the errors came in the first inning, resulting in three Serra runs, but the crushing blow came in the second, when the Wildcats (19-8-1) had three errors on a single play that allowed two runners to score.
“I think the guys put a lot of pressure on themselves to perform and that showed in the first couple of innings,” Stecher said. “There were nerves and there was a whole lot of history behind [this game]. Whatever the reason, we didn’t execute the way we can.”
As much as St. Ignatius struggled defensively, the star of the night was undoubtedly Serra senior relief pitcher Bradley Northnagel, who came on in relief in the first inning with two outs after starter Andrew Garcia allowed two early runs.
Northnagel finished the game off, shutting the Wildcats out over the final 6¹?³ innings. The right-hander allowed five hits, walked one and struck out two on 84 pitches.
“Andrew struggled early, but he was a man about it and understood the big picture,” Serra coach Craig Gianinno said. “Brad Northnagel was a huge example of picking up a teammate and stopping some bleeding. ... He pitched with a lot of maturity, confidence and poise today.”
The Wildcats actually outhit Serra 7-5 and had several close calls at the plate, trying to cut into the Padres’ lead.
The first came in the bottom of the fourth inning with a man on base, when SI junior shortstop Nico Giarratano sent a ball down the right-field line with home run distance, only to see the ball curl just right of the foul pole.
In the fifth, two men were on base for senior designated hitter Travis McDow, who crushed a hanging 3-2 slider from Northnagel to the warning track in left field where Serra outfielder Christian Conci made a running catch.
St. Ignatius second baseman sent another ball to the warning track in left field in the sixth, but Conci again tracked the ball down.
But the Wildcats didn’t score again after the first inning, left eight runners on base and went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
“We’ve done it too many times this season and again we left too many runners on,” Stecher said. “We hit the ball hard, but they were right at guys.”
The Wildcats may have struggled in the field and at the plate, but what can’t be overlooked is the tremendous turnaround Serra made this season.
After starting league play 0-5, the Padres won their final nine games against league opponents, including playoff wins over top-seeded St. Francis and St. Ignatius, the No. 2 seed.
“I don’t know what else to say other than they believed in a time when it wasn’t easy to believe,” Gianinno said. “They continued to focus on what we could control and it was just a matter of time before we would break through.”
The WCAL drought continues for the Wildcats, but another task remains in the Central Coast Section playoffs that begin next week. St. Ignatius has never won a CCS tournament title either.
“We’re going to need some time to sit with this one,” Stecher said. “It hurts and it should hurt. They worked hard to get here and we fell short of our goal, but it’s something we’re going to be able to overcome. On Monday we have a brand-new season, albeit a short one, but we’re going to come out renewed.”
S – Mickey McDonald reaches on an error, Jordan Paroubeck scores (Serra 1-0)
S – McDonald scores on an error (Serra 2-0)
S – Antonio Freschet reaches on an error, Collin Theroux scores (Serra 3-0)
SI – Matt Krook grounds out, Nico Giarratano scores (Serra 3-1)
SI – Jack Stinn hits a sacrifice fly, Charlie Goldensohn scores (Serra 3-2)
S – Paul Murray singles, Paroubeck scores on a throwing error, Theroux scores on a throwing error, Murray advances to third base on a throwing error (Serra 5-2)
S – Michael Tinsley hits a sacrifice fly, Theroux scores (Serra 6-2)
S – Paroubeck singles, Dalvin Martin scores (Serra 7-2)