During the top of the first inning, it looked like Stuart Hall starter T.J. Najera was in for a long afternoon, giving up hits to three of the first four University batters.
However, after spotting the Red Devils three runs, Najera tightened things up to pitch six strong innings, and the Knights rallied back to defeat the Red Devils 5-3 in the Bay Counties League West semifinals on Thursday at Skyline College.
“I was speeding up in that first inning and I just needed to keep my composure,” Najera said. “Things got easier after the first inning, and my defense was [solid] behind me.”
After tying the game in the bottom of the fifth on Lucas Long’s RBI single to center field, the Knights took the lead for good in the next inning.
Red Devils starter Noah Springwater got himself into trouble by walking Harry Conrad, hitting Spencer Palmer and then walking Gerald Reader to load the bases with no outs.
Will Campbell then singled in the go-ahead run to give Stuart Hall a 4-3 lead, and the Knights added some insurance with a beautifully executed suicide squeeze by Ben Carrasco, scoring Palmer to extend the lead further.
Carrasco relieved Najera in the top of the seventh for the save, punching the top-seeded Knights’ ticket to the BCL West championship game on Saturday.
“University put the bat on the ball early, but T.J. kept his composure and made his pitches.” Stuart Hall coach Eddie Russell said. “Our offense was able to find its rhythm and put some runs on the board.”
Despite Springwater’s efforts, University’s season came to a close, as it wasn’t able to generate any offense after the first inning. It mustered only two singles the rest of the way and didn’t have a base runner reach second after the opening frame.
“Today was a glowing example of what our whole season was all about,” University coach Gary Johnson said. “It’s a tough loss because I’m losing my seniors, but today’s game is just one of those games that represented our season. We could never deliver the knockout blow when we needed to.”
For Stuart Hall, Marin Academy awaits in the championship game. The Wildcats defeated four-time defending champion Lick-Wilmerding 7-4 in the other semifnal later in the day.
“This team is ready and we’ve worked really hard all year for this [championship],” Russell said. “Marin Academy [is a] tough team and will give us a good game, but at the end of the day, this team is good enough to come out on top.”
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