YOUNTVILLE, Calif. — All Napa Crushers cleanup hitter Caleb Loewen could do was wave at Cameron Tang’s curve. The San Francisco-Lowell senior had been throwing it for strikes all afternoon. Loewen didn’t have much of a choice.
Two pitches later, Tang twirled a changeup that buckled Loewen’s knees for strike three.
Tang’s strikeout was the last of five over his seven-inning complete game win for the San Francisco Cardinals — a summer club team made up of Lowell’s returning varsity team — as they beat the Crushers 7-3 in the first round of the Joe DiMaggio Baseball state playoffs. The summer circuit is one of the reasons that Lowell has won the San Francisco Section six years running.
“We’re not sponsored by our school, but all the kids want to play in the summer, so we got this kind of club program going,” said former Lowell player (class of 2015) and fourth-year assistant Josh Ng. “I think it shows a lot, just that the kids want to play. They want to give up their summer to come play. It shows that they want to win.”
The Cardinals will play in the semifinal game at 12:45 on Sunday, with a chance at the three-game championship series on Monday. They’ve already played 25 games together since school ended.
“It definitely helps, because the team gets to bond a lot,” Tang said. “We don’t have any of the seniors from last year, and the younger guys get more experience.”
Tang — who threw 110 pitches in the victory —was limited last season due to a nagging back injury, so this summer is a chance for Lowell’s No. 2 starter to stretch himself out and tune up for the spring. It’s also a chance for the rest of the team to learn what they’ll be without seniors Trey Chase, Jordy Bach, Levi Humphrey and Eric Murray.
The Cardinals are one of the rare teams in the 19-and-under summer league to only field a team made of incoming juniors and underclassmen.
One of two other San Francisco entrants in the tournament — the SF Barbarians — featured Brandeis lefty Jesse Lieberman (formerly of Jewish Community High School), James Crutcher — a former Lick-Wilmerding righty currently pitching for Division III Macalester College—and Christian Wong, who graduated from league finalist Washington this spring.
“It’s building a team,” said Ng. “When you lose seniors, it’s more about who wants to step up and who wants to be a leader. We only lost four seniors this year, so we’ve got a lot of the core coming back.”
The Cardinals rarely made weak contact against four different Napa pitchers, batting around in a five-run second with an RBI single from shortstop Phillippe Astier, a two-run single from Tang and a sacrifice fly from Conner Vo. Tang — who hit third — went 3-for-3 on the day, one of two Lowell hitters with multi-hit days. In all, the Cardinals only struck out three times, and every starter had at least a hit, a run or an RBI.
Tang, though, was the most impressive, mixing in a slider he’s been working on with that changeup and a 12-6 hammer curve that he threw for strikes and used as a chase pitch.
“He’s a great pitcher,” Ng said. “He’s got multiple pitches … He battled through. That’s all you could ask from a guy.”
Last year, as Lowell’s No. 3, Tang went 4-4 in nine appearances (five starts) with two complete games and a 2.50 ERA, with 23 strikeouts, behind Humphrey’s 31 and Jack Schonherr’s 40.
The Cardinals went 23-8 last season and lost, three games to two, to Oakland Tech in the annual Transbay Series, but have long been the class of the San Francisco Section. They’ve gone 132-62 over the last six seasons, and have lost only 15 league games. Each year, they’ve played together over the summer, building rapport.
As Tang — tired from the 90-degree heat — readied to head back out to the mound for the seventh, his infielders gathered around him and patted him on the back.
“I think a lot of it is that the kids just want to be around each other,” Ng said. “You don’t see a lot of arguing. You see a lot of pumping each other up.”
Though they lost to PennCities from the peninsula, the Barbarians still showed off some of the exciting young players returning to the San Francisco Section this spring. Leadoff man Devlin Armas, who will be a senior at Washington, was a terror on the base paths, with his speed forcing several miscues. He led off the game with a bunt single, advanced on a pair of wild pitches and scored in a two-run first. He went 2-for-3 on the day with a pair of runs.
Crutcher went 1-for-4 with an RBI double, and scattered five hits and three walks over five innings on the mound, giving up three runs (two earned). Jesse Lieberman — playing with his younger brother Sam Lieberman — took the loss, giving up five runs — all earned — in a nightmare sixth, which saw him give up four hits and a walk.
James Monterrosa, who graduated from Washington this spring and ended Mission’s season with a complete-game shutout in May, went 2-for-4 two singles and an RBI.
The fame meant a bit more for Mission senior CJ Pino — who will be attending Skyline College this fall — who also played for the Barbarians. The game was played at Borman Field on the grounds of the Yountsville VA, and paternal grandfather — Casey Pino — served on the battleship USS Pathfinder in World War II, and he recently passed at 95.