SAN JOSE — As Gilroy-Christopher second baseman Andrew Kachel sank to his knees on the infield dirt, Sacred Heart Cathedral ace and designated hitter Conner LaChapelle put his hands to the side of his helmet, and slowly pulled it off.
The Fightin’ Irish, a No. 12-seed in the Central Coast Section playoffs, endured a first-round game played in parts over two days in two different zip codes, saw their backup catcher save their season against Willow Glen in the second round and upset the No. 1 seed in a shutout on the road in the semifinals.
LaChapelle’s pop up with two men on and two outs in the top of the seventh ended that Cinderella run, as Sacred Heart Cathedral was victimized by a bizarre four-run rally, falling 5-3 to the Cougars, who won their first section title. After reaching the title game for the first time since 2001, though, the Irish are poised to continue their success in the years to come.
“When I popped that up, that’s when I just knew I wasn’t going to help my seniors get a CCS title,” LaChapelle said. “Right there, that was the end of a great season for all of us.”
Following the game, an emotional huddle of Irish players consoled one another, and as they exited Excite Park in San Jose, they were greeted by loud cheers. The underclass-heavy Fightin’ Irish got an exemplary game from Cal-bound All-WCAL shortstop Keshawn Ogans, who hit a home run and went 2-for-3 with a walk in his final high school game, but left nine men on base.
“We had guys on in the sixth inning, we had guys on in the seventh inning, and we’re up there with our big guy hitting,” said head coach Brian Morgan, who made his third championship appearance. “He took a rip and popped it up. If he goes up there and takes three strikes, you’re going, well, you know. If he gets a base hit, we tie the game and we’re still playing. As long as the effort’s there, I’ve got no problems.”
Senior Raphael Cervantez started things off by blasting a leadoff double over the left fielder JoJo Aguilera’s head and off the wall in the second, and after a walk to junior Lucas Herrara and a groundout to first, Cervantez rode home on a sacrifice fly by junior third baseman Chris Rodriguez.
After seeing 34 pitches from junior righty Brenden Lodge over the first two innings, the Irish came out swinging in the third, with Ogans blasting the first pitch he saw from Lodge over the left field wall for a leadoff home run.
Each of the next two men were retired on the first pitch swinging, and the Cougars nearly got out of the inning when Cervantez went fishing on a breaker away. The ball skipped in the dirt, past catcher Zach Griffin, who had a bad throwing lane and couldn’t nip Cervantez at first. Another wild pitch — a breaker away — moved Cervantez to second, but Herrera — who came in with a .290 average — grounded out to short to end the threat. While Sacred Heart Cathedral only got one run, they did wind up driving Lodge’s pitch count up to 48 pitches in three innings.
Sacred Heart Cathedral junior lefty Uday Narottam had retired the first seven men he faced with a mix of offspeed and breaking stuff, but saw his nascent no-hitter broken up by a flare single to center by Logan Stelling. The inning fell apart from there, as right fielder Karson Mazotti sent a bounder to first, where Lucas Kelly was able to pick it and throw to Ogans at second to get the lead runner. Ogans’ throw back to first, though, was off line and late, allowing Mazotti to reach.
Narottam looked to be out of the inning when third baseman Chris Rodriguez made a diving stop on a Travis Romero hot shot up the line, but his throw to first was not in time. With men at first and second. Chistopher second baseman Andrew Kachel sent a bouncer back of first, where Kelly was able to snag it and throw to a covering Narottam. Narottam was just a hair late, but while he was looking at the bag, Mazotti sprinted around third. Narottam wheeled around and spiked the ball in the dirt, allowing the first run to score and Romero to take third.
A walk to Jack Tomlinson (hitting .410) brought up Zah Griffin, who sent a two-hopper off the lip at third and off the heel of Rodriguez’s glove, bringing home two run and spelling the end for Narottam.
“They got a single to center and a hard ball that got past our third baseman, but other than that, they didn’t get a ball out of the infield,” Morgan said. “I guess it happens at every level, but we’re looking for one out or a call at first. We don’t get any of ‘em. They keep putting the ball in play and running as fast as they can and we can’t get out of it.”
As Griffin edged off first and began to slowly walk to second, reliever Jaime Gomez spun and threw to Kelly to try and pick him off, but it was too late. Griffin got hung up between first and second as Romero sprinted home. Kelly threw to Padilla, who made a diving tag, but it was too late. Gomez got first baseman Cooper Ahola to fly out to center, but the damage was done.
A bizarre rundown in the fifth with Tomlinson at first allowed Kachel — aboard with a two-out single — to score all the way from second as no one paid attention to him until Gomez hit Tomlinson in the back with a throw on the basepaths. The inning wa salmost more disastrous, had Cervantez not made a perfect one-hop throw from right on a single by Griffin, nailing Tomlinson at third to end the inning.
Before the seventh, Narottam, a junior, yelled, “Any way we can!” while junior pitcher Owen Stevenson added, “Everything we’ve got!”
The Irish got a small rally going in the seventh, with an Ogans walk, a dose in the hip to senior Danny Hinderliter and a pop fly RBI double from Herrera, but it wasn’t enough. Sacred Heart finished its season 18-14, and while Ogans may be gone next season, LaChapelle — who hit .255 on the year but drove in 10 runs to go along with three doubles and two triples — and four other regulars will return.
LaChapelle went 2-3 on the mound, but posted a 2.13 ERA in a staff-high 42 2/3 innings, with 32 strikeouts. Along with him, the Irish bring back Stevenson (33 strikeouts in 34 innings, 2.88 ERA) and crafty lefty Narottam. Gomez, who had a 2.08 ERA in 19 appearances before Friday, will also return.
“Physically, we’re losing a couple of guys that are really good, and the seniors have been such great leaders for us all year,” Morgan said. “It’s an opportunity for other guys to step in. These guys weren’t always leaders. It’s a process.”
It’s not the end of the line for the Irish.
“The amount of guys that we have coming back and the amount of guys on the bump that we have to go to, it’s going to be a great year,” LaChapelle said. “I highly believe that we’ll be right back here, on the other side, this time.
LaChapelle pointed to the home dugout across the field.
“I have a good feeling about next year,” he said.