SF Preps Baseball: Lowell claims seventh straight AAA championship

Sophomores star for the Cardinals in a rain-shortened title game at Oracle Park

ORACLE PARK — In the home dugout at Oracle Park, amidst soggy conditions at the Academic Athletic Association baseball title game, Lowell’s coaches and players were representing all sorts of different sweatshirts recognizing their City consecutive championship runs. Some were honoring four titles in a row, some five and some six.

With a talented sophomore class taking the reins on Thursday, they’ll be adding another set of championship sweatshirts and finding a new spot in what’s an extremely crowded trophy case, as the Cardinals beat Washington 5-0 in a rain-shortened game to extend their City title streak to seven years in a row.

While Jack Schonherr allowed just one hit over five innings for an abbreviated complete game, unsung hero Mark Zhu stepped up with a two-run triple and a double, making a name for himself on a field where many of his idols have played.

Standing in the right-handed batter’s box that Buster Posey has hit from thousands of times and playing on the left side of the infield just like Brandon Crawford, Zhu ensured that Lowell (21-6) would have enough run support to continue what’s been an incredible stretch for the Cardinals.

“We’ve got a lot of good sophomores on this team and I was lucky to get into the lineup,” Zhu said.

Only a semi-regular starter who struggled to hit at the beginning of the year, Zhu came into his own as the year progressed and looked like a seasoned veteran on Thursday, cementing his status as part of a Lowell program that’s graduated from being a powerhouse into becoming a full-on dynasty.

“He’s always one of the last guys to leave practice,” head coach Daryl Semien said. “He’s always taking extra swings, and it’s paid off. He’s one of our defensive studs, too.”

Zhu had three plays from third base on the day, charging on a Niko Lanier bunt to end the top of the second and handling a pair of grounders in the top of the fifth, the last of which was picked at first by an elastic Levi Humphrey for what turned out to be the final play of the game. Umpires and coaches held a confab behind home plate, and as Washington players started to make their way onto the field, they ruled the wet field to be unplayable.

“I trusted my defense and they made all of the plays behind me,” said Schonherr, who allowed just one hit, a two-out Christian Wong single in the fourth, while striking out three.

The Eagles (12-16) flashed the leather as well, with a diving catch by Devlin Armas to end the top of the second and a great heads-up play by first baseman Gilbert Diccion in the fourth, backing up to take a longer hop on a throw across the diamond. Still, the Cardinal bats proved to be too much, even with semifinal hero James Monterrosa on the mound.

After Zhu’s triple brought home a pair in the first, back-to-back RBI singles by sophomore catcher Shane Stanley and junior second baseman Cameron Tang made it a 4-0 game in the second. Zhu also started the rally in the third, doubling off Armas, who took over on the mound, and coming home on a Schonherr RBI single to finish the scoring.

From there, it was just a matter of how many innings the teams would fit in before the rains became too much, and even though the game was abruptly called, it was an experience that even the defeated Eagles were thankful for.

“This is exactly what they play for, and this was the carrot that was dangled in front of them,” Washington head coach Brian Jesson said. “Anything less than this would have been a disappointment. I’m happy that they got this experience, especially the seniors.”

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