On a scorecard, Balboa High School senior Alex Arnold’s groundout to second base in the second inning of the San Francisco Section-Academic Athletic Association baseball semifinals looks routine, but it’s the kind of groundout that makes coaches gush.
It was also the difference in Balboa’s 1-0 upset win over Lowell on Thursday at Big Rec.
After a leadoff double by junior Jeremy Wong, only one of two Balboa hits in the game, Arnold hit a textbook grounder to Lowell second baseman Nick Magyari, allowing Wong to get to third with one out.
The next batter, Branden Oropeza, hit a sacrifice fly to center field on a 3-2 pitch from Lowell starter Aaron Leong and Wong just beat the relay throw to the plate.
“We’ve been working on situational hitting a lot because we knew this game would be a battle,” Arnold said. “Even if we make outs, we want them to be productive. That’s what we did and that’s why we got the win today.”
Arnold, also the starting pitcher for Balboa (16-8), didn’t know it then, but that run was all the Buccaneers would need to knock the Cardinals (23-6) out of the playoffs in the semifinal round for the fourth consecutive year.
The right-hander often fell behind Lowell batters, but only allowed four hits and three walks while striking out two in a complete-game shutout. Arnold stranded seven Lowell baserunners and the Buccaneers played flawless defense behind him.
“I was just throwing consistent fastballs down low,” Arnold said. “They were hitting it hard, but they were hitting it into the ground. My defense was really behind me today.”
As well as Arnold pitched, Leong may have actually pitched a better game, despite the lone run.
The junior right-hander allowed just four baserunnners, only allowed one runner past second base (the runner that scored) and also pitched a complete game on just 74 pitches.
“Aaron did a really good job on the mound today,” Lowell coach John Donohue said. “He got out of trouble, picked a guy off, etc. It’s probably our offense’s fault that we didn’t deliver.”
The same Lowell lineup that averaged over 10 runs per game in thee AAA regular season was shut out for the first time in league play. The Cardinals hit several balls hard, but nearly all were mopped up by the Balboa defense.
“If we don’t put the ball in play sometimes we have a tough time scoring runs, but that wasn’t it today,” Donohue said.
The Bucs were swept by Lowell in two regular-season games, but the single-elimination win punches their ticket to the city championship game Saturday at AT&T Park, where they will face Washington for the second consecutive year. The Eagles won last season’s championship game 4-1.
“Last year, we were overwhelmed, being there the first time,” Pontino said. “Now I’m taking a group of kids who have been there, so hopefully things will be different.”
Washington 19, Marshall 0 (5 innings)
Marshall’s feel-good Cinderella story got a dose of reality at Big Rec.
The defending AAA champs scored 10 runs in the second inning, five in the third and four in the fourth to end the game via mercy rule.
Washington senior pitcher Dane Vande Guchte started and threw three scoreless innings and fellow senior Avery Velasco came on to throw two scoreless innings in relief.
Preps sports coverage provided in partnership by The San Francisco Examiner and www.SanFranPreps.com.
Balboa vs. Washington
WHEN: Saturday, 4:30 p.m. (approximate)
WHERE: AT&T Park
NOTE: The title game will start following the conclusion of the Giants-Brewers game, which starts at 1:05 p.m., on Saturday
LAST YEAR: Washington beat Balboa 4-1 in the title game