GOLDEN GATE PARK — Asantay Wilson pumped his fist as he climbed off the mound. He’d just struck out his second batter in the bottom of the seventh, stranding the tying and winning runs in scoring position. As he headed toward the Mission bench, he was embraced by his teammates and coaches.
According to available records, the Bears had not beaten the Lowell Cardinals in at least as long as 22 games dating back to at least 2005.
With a home run, a diving catch in center field and his second save of the season, Wilson — who only arrived at Mission this fall after transferring from Burton — cemented his place in Academic Athletic Association and school history, helping to deal the six-time defending champion Cardinals a 2-1 loss, their first league loss since April 3, and just their second league defeat of the season.
“It’s great to be a part of school history,” Wilson said. “We haven’t won a game against these guys in 30 years, I’d say. These guys really wanted it, and especially after last year, at the championship game.”
“I’ve been doing this for a while,” said head coach Chris Ayag. “I’ve had a lot of battles with that team, and any time you can get a victory against a Lowell team is a special victory. They make you pay for every mistake. [Lowell head coach Daryl] Semien has got them playing, they’re like a machine.”
As Wilson was greeted by his teammates, his mother Ashley Frankel, clad in a yellow Mission sweatshirt, looked on, beaming. Frankel had Wilson when she was still in high school. She’s raised Wilson and his 14-year old sister as a single mother, working for the San Francisco Unified School District as a teacher’s assistant, before taking a job with Muni, where she’s worked as a driver for eight years. She gets off work early when Wilson plays, but leaves the house at 5 a.m., and calls to wake her children up for school.
Every morning, her daughter heads to Burton, where, until this summer, Wilson was also enrolled. The Pumas, though, were a Division 2 team in the AAA, and, with a fastball touching the low-90s, Wilson wanted more. So, he decided to transfer to Mission, which hadn’t won a league title since 1990, but made it to the title game last season, where they were defeated by Lowell.
“Mission gave me what I wanted out of a baseball program,” Wilson said. “I felt like I could really better my baseball career playing at Mission … I love the diversity, the help is great, and it’s a great community to be in.”
There was just one problem: His arm. After over-working during winter ball, throwing 100 pitches in a day at a travel ball tournament, Wilson had to be sidelined with a pulled lat and a strained rotator cuff. He’s undergone physical therapy — he went once a week for several months — and continues to work with resistance bands every day to get his arm strength up.
Luckily for the Bears, early-season rains meant that he only missed four games, but Wilson didn’t get on the mound until the end of March, in the Anaheim Lions Tournament. He hit four batters.
“It was bad,” Ayag said. “But, we knew we had to get him out there. He put the work in himself, listened to our coaching, and he’s done it.”
Since then, Wilson has been one of the Bears’ go-to arms in the late innings. After senior captain Will Cohen started and threw six strong frames on Thursday, Ayag sent him to the mound to start the seventh. After Cohen allowed the tying run to reach second — just as it was in a 5-3 win over Balboa on April 22 — Ayag went to Wilson.
After a third-inning RBI groundout by sophomore catcher Shane Stanley gave Lowell (18-6, 13-2 in AAA) the lead, the Bears had gotten even thanks to Wilson’s second home run of the season. Wilson crushed a 1-1 offering from Cardinals sophomore starter Nevin Lee down the left field line. In a park with a fence, Wilson could have taken an easy trot. Instead, he sprinted around the bases for a typical AAA roundtripper.
“I was looking for a fastball, waiting for my pitch, working the count,” said Wilson, who had trouble with Lee’s breaking ball. “Some of our guys were jumping on the first-pitch fastball, and I was just looking for my pitch.”
Senior Mission catcher Zeke Bellino then delivered a one-out low liner past a diving Mark Zhu at third, and rode home on a flare single over second by junior Mikaele Mateo.
After a narrow 1-0 loss to Lowell on Wednesday, Mission needed every advantage it could get, and Wilson came up with a key play in the bottom of the sixth. With one out and star two-way player Levi Humphrey at the plate, Wilson made a sliding, diving snag on a would-be single to center, retiring the Cardinals’ cleanup man.
“First instinct, I didn’t really think I was going to get there,” Wilson said. “I read the ball, I thought my second baseman or my shortstop was going to get there. I noticed that they were having a hard time getting to the ball, so I just gave it my all.”
Cohen then got a pop out from Jack Schonherr to end the frame.
After Cohen allowed his second hit of the day — a leadoff flare over second for a single by Zhu — in the seventh, he ended a seven-pitch battle with Stanley with a high fly ball foul down the left field line. Left fielder Demarr Simmons Jr. ran nearly 100 feet to make a diving grab for the first out. A first-pitch sinking liner to left by pinch hitter Teo Koulias put the winning run aboard.
Enter: Wilson. He fanned Matthew Bura on a fastball at the eyes, and blew away Jorday Bach on four pitches for his second save in as many opportunities.
“It just proves to us that we belong here, and we’re going to see them again,” Bellino said. “He made the last pitch, and I’m just excited to say that I get to beat them before going out … He’s a fighter. He’s a great player, too, and we’re always better with him. For him to come play ball for us, go through injuries and tough it out, it says a lot about his character.”
When he’s not playing or practicing — staying late to get more work in even after his team has left the practice field — Wilson spends his time in the library, studying business and finance. He has a 3.8 grade point average has been on the honor roll all year. One of the reasons he transferred to Mission was for opportunities to play at the next level. In the fall, Wilson plans to head to the College of San Mateo, where he hopes to develop his arm even further, and maybe get a coveted scholarship offer.
“He’s very passionate about this sport,” Frankel said. “He always has been. He’s been playing since he was five. He practices on his own every weekend. He’s always been like that.”
For now, he’s focused on getting the Bears back to the league title game, and making a little more history. The Bears (12-12, 10-4) are locked into second place with the league tournament scheduled for next week. The Cardinals are in first, setting up a rematch of last year’s title game.
“We know they’re the champs,” Ayag said. “To be a champion, you’ve got to go through them.”