PETALUMA, Calif. – Old school baseball aficionados will tell you pitching and defense wins games, and for fourth-seeded St. Ignatius-San Francisco it could not have been truer as the Wildcats got both in a 3-0 victory over host and No. 3 seed Casa Grande in the CIF Northern Regional Division II title game on Saturday afternoon.
The victory caps a season where St. Ignatius (20-12) came into the D2 bracket with the second worst record of the eight teams, but a lot of that had to do with playing in West Catholic Athletic League, arguably the state’s toughest league and certainly NorCal’s toughest. They also were placed in the CIF Central Coast Section Division I playoffs where they upset Los Gatos, and avenged an early season loss, before losing to NorCal D1 runner-up Valley Christian-San Jose, a team they lost twice to in league.
“This team stuck together from the beginning,” St. Ignatius head coach Brian Pollzzie said. “Any time you play in the WCAL you go through a lot with ups and downs.”
“We were 6-8 in league, found a way to get hot at the end,” Pollzzie continued. “We’ve been challenged all year, each WCAL game was like a playoff game, and these guys worked their tails off and came out on top.”
Freshman right-handed starter Archer Horn went five innings, and although he did walk four batters and only struck out three, he only surrendered three hits and pitched out of three jams, one with a strikeout and two by way of his defense.
“Honestly, no nerves. I just went out there and had to put my best foot forward,” replied Horn about getting such a huge start as a freshman. “I trusted my guys behind me. It was amazing.”
St. Ignatius got the winning runs in the first inning and all its runs in the first two innings.
“Obviously it helps to get an early lead, and it was a comfort for me, but it’s a game and people come back,” Horn remarked. “I had to keep pitching to the best of my abilities and the defense was lights out like it’s been all season.”
“I knew this game was not going to be an easy one,” Horn continued. “I knew I had to throw the kind of pitches to get ground balls and that’s what happened. I trust my guys.”
Senior Gus Parker led off the game for St. Ignatius with a walk, and went to second on an errant pick-off throw by Casa Grande junior starter Jeffrey Rice with junior Dominic Castillo at the plate. Castillo grounded to Rice but his throw to third was not in time and the Wildcats had runners on first and third. After a fly out senior Leonard Beattie then laid down a perfect for a single driving in Parker and sending Castillo all the way to third. Senior Niko Gomozias drove in Castillo for the second run on a sacrifice fly and Horn was staked to a 2-0 lead.
Casa Grande threatened in the bottom of the first with a one out walk to junior Kalen Clemmens and a base hit junior JT Summers put runners on first and second. Clemmens went to third on a wild pitch but two pitches before that Summers was thrown out trying to steal. Horn then got his second strikeout of the inning to retire the side.
Rice walked the leadoff batter in the top of the third when Wildcats senior Jackson Short drew a base on balls. Rice got a fly out but after giving up singles to junior Patrick Ruana and Parker to load the bases, Casa Grande head coach Pete Sikora replaced him with Austin Steeves. The Gauchos junior ace then hit Castillo to drive in Short for the third and final run of the game.
Despite the hit batter, Steeves got a strikeout and a fly to right to quell a potential big rally. Steeves, the Gauchos best hitter who did not start in the field or as a batter due to a sore hamstring, didn’t let it affect his pitching. Before reaching his maximum pitch count allowed for a week he went a total of three innings, struck out eight of the 10 batters he faced, and left to a standing ovation by fans of both teams.
Meanwhile, Casa Grande (25-6) could not take advantage and stranded two runners in the third, one in the fourth, and in the fifth with the bases loaded, St. Ignatius turned a 6-4-3 double play to keep the Gauchos off the scoreboard.
At that point St. Ignatius head coach Brian Pollzzie brought in sophomore Beau Schaffer and he went the last two innings and retired six of the seven batters he faced, three by way of strikeouts. He did give up a single to open the bottom of the sixth, but that ended up as the seventh runner stranded by Casa Grande.
“We had our chances with runners in scoring position but it just didn’t work out today,” said Sikora. “At the end of the day we didn’t execute and we didn’t play like champions.”
“The loss doesn’t take away from the historic season they had,” Sikora continued. “This team has done more than maybe any Casa Grande team in carrying on the honored and celebrated history here.”
With the young team the Gauchos have they may actually be better next year.
“We fully expect to make a deep run and be here again next year,” Sikora remarked
For St. Ignatius it was the second straight game that a freshman started and won the game. On Thursday it was Chase Gordon that went all the way in a 5-1 victory over West Catholic Athletic League rival Bellarmine-San Jose.
“Our pitchers did a great job this week with Freshmen starters in back-to-back games,” Pollzzie remarked. “We lost three seniors to injury before the season so the staff was real young. If you told me we’d be here without those guys is a real testament to their work.”
Whether or not St. Ignatius can challenge the top teams in the WCAL next season like Valley Christian, Archbishop Mitty-San Jose, the 2022 NorCal D2 champion, and St. Francis-Mountain View, remains to be seen, but with Horn and Schaffer back to anchor the pitching staff, the Wildcats should be very competitive.
For now the Sunset District of San Francisco is rocking with St. Ignatius becoming the first baseball team from the city to earn a state CIF title