— Ryan Gorcey (@RyanGorcey) May 17, 2019
HALF MOON BAY — With two men on and two outs in the bottom of the eighth, and a 2-2 count on senior Aragon first baseman Sterling Miller, junior righty Owen Stevenson stared in for a sign from senior catcher Leo Kikuchi.
Forty-eight hours earlier, and 12 miles northeast, Stevenson was on the mound when Sacred Heart Cathedral’s playoff game against the Dons had been suspended under steady rains with the two teams knotted at 5-5 after the seventh inning. Stevenson had finished the regular season as the Irish’s second starter, but had started his first varsity season as a reliever. Immediately following the game, head coach Brian Morgan told him he’d be finishing the game, when it resumed.
With the game and the season on the line in the Central Coast Section Division II playoffs, Stevenson delivered a cut fastball at the bottom of the zone to freeze Miller, sending Kikuchi springing up out of the crouch and his teammates streaming out of the dugout. In the most unorthodox of playoff games, where a junior varsity call-up provided a game-tying double and scored the game-winning run two days apart, Sacred Heart Cathedral advanced with a 6-5 win, with their head coach Brian Morgan watching from a hill beyond the outfield wall.
“I was just trying to blow it by him, and he didn’t swing,” said Stevenson, who tops out at around 84 mph. “Absolutely thrilling. It is awesome.”
Even before Wednesday’s start, Aragon head coach Lenny Souza had already discussed with Morgan the possibilities of moving the game, should rain wash things out.
The Irish took an early 1-0 lead in the first inning on Wednesday at Aragon thanks to a two-out double from senior Raphael Cervantez, but saw the Dons answer right back in the bottom against starter Connor LaChapelle, who allowed back-to-back doubles, followed by two errors.
Cervantez tied things up in the third with an RBI single, cashing in a Daniel Hinderliter one-out double. Aragon sent nine men to the plate in the fifth, scoring three runs, and a controversial play at first base cost the Irish their head coach.
“I was back in the dugout, and I threw my helmet against the wall,” Morgan said. “I was upset about something, it was a call I disagreed with at first base, but I was in the dugout, and I wasn’t swearing, and was mad, and happened to have my coach’s helmet on, instead of my stupid hat, right, and I hit it, and made this huge noise. I picked it back up, and the umpire said, ‘I’m not going to have any of that.’ I thought he was warning me, put my helmet back, and he said, ‘You’re gone.’”
Morgan was told if he kept arguing, the game would be called, so he picked up his bag and walked away.
As the rain fell harder in the top of the sixth, Sacred Heart Cathedral came up with a two-out rally, with back-to-back walks followed by a game-tying RBI double from pinch hitter David Briseno. As dry dirt was dumped on the mound and around home plate, the two teams agreed to pause the game after Stevenson, knocking mud out of his cleats, struggling to get a grip on the ball, fanned two in a 12-pitch seventh against the bottom of the order.
“At that point, somebody’s going to slip or the ball’s going to slip, and you don’t want the game to be decided on some ball that slips out of some kid’s hands,” Morgan said. “They could have called it after six, and it was tied, but they let us play one more in the seventh.”
Briseno — who played most of the year on junior varsity, hitting near .300, before getting called up at Easter — wound up being key when the game resumed, sending an 0-1, one-out fly ball to right field when the game shifted to Half Moon Bay on Friday.
“At first, off the bat, I thought he was going to catch it,” Briseno said.
Dons right fielder Tristan Dewing shielded his eyes against the sun with his glove, and the drive ricochetted off of his glove and into the right field corner. Running from first to second, Briseno shifted into a higher gear and wound up at third.
“Three weeks ago, he’s on the JVs, and now he’s as much a reason we won a CCS game as anybody else,” said Morgan, who was situated off the school property watching on a grassy hill beyond right field.
Up stepped future Cal Golden Bear Keshawn Ogans, who had gone 0-for-4 over the first seven innings with two flyouts and a pop out. He sent another fly ball to right center. This one, too, was caught, but it was deep enough to allow Briseno to scamper home with the go-ahead run.
“I wasn’t trying to do too much,” Ogans said. “When we were playing before, I was doing too much, a lot of dipping my shoulder. I talked to coach about my at-bats, and he said just simplify stuff, simplify my swing. I was just looking for a pitch middle away, and I got it.”
Aragon didn’t make things easy on Stevenson in the bottom of the eighth, pitching again for the second time in three days, well into his routine as a starter.
“Whenever they need me, I’ll go,” Stevenson said. “It’s the playoffs. I feel like I could throw 100 pitches.”
After catching sophomore Junior Guidino looking, a fly ball to center by Jace Jeremiah took off on Hinderliter, and glanced off his glove. A first-pitch double by powerful Camron Grant (.408, 6 HR, 9 2B) put men at second and third. After another Stevenson strikeout, the Irish elected to walk cleanup hitter Matthew Mukai to load the bases, ensuring a force at any base.
Up stepped Miller, a .304 hitter with two homers and 17 RBIs on the year. Stevenson got ahead 0-2, but then missed outside twice. He reared back and got his cut fastball in at the knees, sending the No. 12-seed Irish (16-12) to a Saturday, 2 p.m. matchup with No. 13-seed Willow Glen (12-16) at St. Francis in Mountain View, where Sacred Heart Cathedral will be the nominal home team.
“He was our best option,” Morgan said of Stevenson. “Whether he won or lost, the moment wasn’t going to be too big for him.”