By Cyril Penn
Special to S.F. Examiner
MALONEY FIELD – The Lowell Cardinals came up just short of their fifth Transbay Baseball Championship Series win in seven seasons, falling 3-2 against their East Bay rival, Oakland Tech, despite a spirited seventh inning rally.
Trailing 3-1 with only three outs left to play, the Cardinals looked to head coach Daryl Semien for answers.
“I told them in the huddle that we had a job to do and the game wasn’t over,” Semien said. “As long as we still have three outs, you’ve got a shot … We couldn’t go up there swinging from out ‘you-know-what’s.’ We had to scrap and claw our way.”
The team took Semien’s advice, clawing their way forward with singles from Jack Schonherr, Levi Humphrey, Mark Zhu and Connor Vo that cut the deficit to 3-2 with the bases loaded and only one out. The Cardinals, though, couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity as Oakland Tech’s left-handed reliever Isaac Lucas coaxed Jordy Bach and Matteo Koulias into the final two outs.
“It’s disappointing, obviously, to lose,” Semien said. “But I mean, if we’re going to lose I’d like to lose to a classy coach like coach Bryan (Bassette). It gives these guys a goal of what they need to work on individually over the summer. When we get back together, in late fall, early spring next year, [getting back to the Transbay Series is] a goal that’s going to sit and hand in their heads for months.”
One of the returners who will be champing at the bit to avenge this season’s sour ending is Mark Zhu, Lowell’s sophomore shortstop who went 4-for-4 at the plate with four singles and the lone seventh inning RBI.
“We gave everything we had, but we left a lot of guys on base,” said Zhu. “We just needed one of two more clutch hits. If we get those hits in those situations, we could’ve won this game.”
The Cardinal’s inability to convert with runners in scoring position ultimately made the difference in the game. They went 3-for-10 with runners in scoring position, failing to cash in on important bases loaded opportunities in the second, fourth and seventh innings, while also coming up empty-handed with runners on second and third in the fifth.
“It’s a mindset when you go into the batter’s box,” Semien said. “You want to be ‘The Man’ and you’ve got to go in and have that attitude. With as many runners we left on base, especially against a scrappy team like that, you can’t do that because that team ain’t going anywhere.”
Lowell kicked off the scoring in the second inning after Levi Humphrey led off with a double to deep left-center, advanced to third on a perfect bunt single from Zhu and scored on a sacrifice fly from Connor Vo.
After Philippe Astier walked to load the bases with two outs, it seemed that the Cardinals were ready to break things open with a big inning, but Oakland Tech starting pitcher Brendan Barry-Owen forced catcher Shane Stanley to fly out to short right to limit the damage.
The Bulldogs answered in the fourth inning after a pair of walks and an error on a potential double-play ball loaded the bases for Mike Paltiel, who smacked a two-run single to right that plated Miles Hickey and Barry-Owen to give the Bulldogs a 2-1 lead.
In his second straight start in the series – his only two starts since being shut down with a back injury in April – Lowell’s Cameron Tang lasted four innings on the mound, giving up three runs on three hits and four walks. After opening the fifth inning with a pair of walks, Semien decided to pull him in favor of Jack Schonherr.
The sophomore right-hander came in touting a 1.25 ERA, and lowered it even further, notching three strong innings, allowing only one hit and one walk.
Entering with two runners on and no outs, Schonherr found himself promptly facing a bases-loaded, no-out jam. He coerced Alex George into a pop out, but couldn’t keep his opponent off the board after Aidan Young laid down a squeeze bunt that scored Stanford-commit Adam Crampton and upped the Bulldogs’ lead to 3-1, just enough of a cushion to decide the outcome.
With the winners of the Academic Athletic Association and Oakland Athletic League facing off every year in the Transbay Series, Lowell and Oakland Tech have represented their respective leagues in the series in seven straight seasons. The Cardinals have won four to the Bulldogs three, but Oakland Tech has now come out on top in back-to-back seasons.
Lowell has won eight Transbay Baseball Championships since the Series inception in 1985, while Oakland Tech is close behind with six championship wins.
“We look forward to seeing them next year, hopefully,” Semien smiled. “These younger guys have a goal set for them, not just to win our section title. Let’s get back in this thing and try to go grab this trophy back.”