GOLDEN GATE PARK — Three runs in the bottom of the second and five solid innings on the mound from sophomore Jack Schonherr were enough to lift Lowell (20-6) past no-quit Lincoln, 4-2, in Thursday’s Academic Athletic Association semifinal, marking a return to the championship game for the six-time defending champions.
The bottom of the order was key for the Cardinals in their early rally, with No. 9 hitter Philippe Astier singling home the game’s first run. A wild throw from the Mustang shortstop on a Jordy Bach grounder brought home two more runs, which was enough support for Schonherr and Levi Humphrey.
“Our pitchers were around the plate where they needed to be,” Lowell manager Daryl Semien said. “They weren’t getting hurt by making too many mistakes.”
Schonherr scored the game’s first run and came home again in the fourth, providing an insurance run on a wild pitch. That insurance run was instantly valuable as Lincoln (13-15) got two back in the top of the fifth, Jonas Francovich reaching on a two-out error and scoring on a booming triple by AJ Adewusi. Mustangs starting pitcher Colson Ryan followed with an RBI single of his own, but Schonherr would finish his day by getting freshman Julian Fong-McAdams to fly out.
Lowell would load the bases in the bottom of the fifth, but Schonherr’s bid for a sac fly would be thwarted by Anthony Sierra’s perfect throw home.
That wasn’t the end of the drama, as the Mustangs would make noise in the sixth against Humphrey, the Cardinals’ ace coming on in relief. Jonathan Wan walked and Jeffery Franco singled, and after a Jovani Serrano force out, Franco was picked off at second on a call that was eventually overturned. Undeterred, Humphrey got Sierra to bounce into a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat, and though Chris Franco and Ryan would draw walks in the seventh, Humphrey got Fong-McAdams to pop out to end the game.
It marked the end of Adewusi’s Lincoln career, and shortly after it was over, manager James Burke was quick to laud his superstar.
“He’s the best player in the league by far,” Burke said. “He hits like a D1 player. There are a lot of spectacular players on a lot of these teams, but I think AJ was the guy this year.”
Burke was in a unique position on Thursday afternoon, having experience coaching every player on the field after spending the last eight years on Lowell’s staff and having worked with a handful of the kids coaching various SFYBL tournament teams.
“The Lowell coaching staff reached out when I asked for help,” he said. “It’s definitely a baseball family.”
While a semifinal appearance is as far as the Mustangs got last year, Burke focused on changing the culture at Lincoln, and when his team hung tough after falling behind in the second inning on Thursday, those changes were apparent.
“Every kid on the roster was along for the trip,” Burke said. “We had people show up to every practice, people wanting to be there and they bought in. Once we got that one big win, we knew they could do it, and you saw that in the game today. That’s what gave us a chance.”
As much as Adewusi will be missed, he and the rest of the seniors have set the framework for a bright young class.
“The younger guys have so much positive energy because they see what needs to be done, and it’s just going to grow from here,” Burke said. “I told this team, ‘even though you didn’t get it done, you’re going to be remembered because you started a program.’”
The Cardinals advance to the title game against Washington, set for Oracle Park on May 15.