CONCORD, Calif. – Ethan Dungo punched a single to center in the bottom of the seventh to give host De La Salle a 7-6 victory over St. Francis-Mountain View in the first ever CIF Northern Regional Division I Championship. The top-seeded Spartans scored four times in the inning after having had leads of 1-0 and 3-1 erased by the second-seeded Lancers, who hadn’t lost since April 30.
Max Ross wrapped up a four-run fifth for the visitors with an impressive two-run homer, but unfortunately for St. Francis the theatrics also came in the form of fielding errors – six, to be exact – which proved instrumental in the loss.
Donovan Chriss posed the biggest offensive threat for the Spartans, going for 3-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs. He played a crucial role in the seventh, which began with back-to-back errors by St. Francis. Kai Smith was then hit by a pitch, setting the table for Chriss to poke an RBI single to reduce the Lancers’ lead to two runs.
Eli Rubio followed with a grounder to short, allowing AJ Bianchina, who had pinch hit for Connor Harrison, to cross home to make it 6-5. Dungo then strode to the plate, and with two strikes, hit a chopper over shortstop into center field, scoring Smith and Chriss to put a perfect bow on a season in which the Spartans fielded 27 seniors.
“We just wanted to do what we do when we’re down,” De La Salle coach David Jeans stated. “We take a pitch for a strike, we try to take it one pitch at a time, put the ball into play. We did that, we got a break. We just plugged away. And the kids trust the next guy up.”
De La Salle (27-6) opened things up in the first when Cade Cushing followed a hit by pitch and an error with a run-scoring single. Starter Cal Randall, meanwhile, showed why he’s a UCLA-commit as he mowed down the first three hitters on strikeouts and retired the first 11 hitters overall. Ross’s single with two outs in the fourth seemed innocent enough, but Ryan Lee followed with the first of his three hits on the afternoon and Derek Gile then looped a double to center to tie the game.
Tyson Smith’s searing fly ball to right field looked like it would inflict more damage, but Tanner Griffith came up with a highlight reel-worthy diving catch to save two more runs.
The Spartans responded with two of their own in the bottom half against Lancers’ starter Blake Rogers. Kai Smith led off and got to second on a single and an error. Rubio drove one home on a single and Dungo’s sac fly scored the other.
“Things can happen when you try to put the pressure on the defense,” Chriss remarked. “We have fighters all through the lineup.”
In the top of the fourth, Randall gave up back-to-back hits to Christian Galvez and Luke Devine that put runners at the corners with nobody out. St. Francis then failed to cash in on a suicide squeeze play, as catcher Anthony Martinez scooped up the bunt that lay just inside the foul line on the third base side and tagged Galvez out.
After Duncan was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Wyatt King rocketed a single to tie the game at three, but was tagged out trying for two. Ross’s two-run dinger cleared the center field wall to give the Lancers their first lead. In the top of the seventh, Lee drove home Duncan, who had singled with one out, to give the St. Francis relivers an extra cushion, though just like King he got caught going for two.
Rogers pitched four innings, and Tristan Kim and Ned Righellis threw an inning each for St. Francis (31-5). Will Bonini took the mound to start the seventh and was tagged for the loss despite not allowing an earned run. Tyler Wood assumed the reins for Randall with two outs in the fifth and struck out three while allowing two hits in two innings of work. Sam Sitzman got the win for De La Salle even though he didn’t retire a batter.
“I’m unbelievably proud of what they’ve done to get to this day,” St. Francis coach Matt Maguire said. “Made way too many mistakes…I think that says a lot about the character of this team that even when we had a bad day we still had a chance to win. Sometimes you work your butt off for this goal and you got it right there and it just gets taken from you occasionally.”
Maguire acknowledged that the field’s dynamics can be challenging, and that a game of this magnitude could be played on a bigger stage, but made no excuses. The two teams had matched up once already this season, with Wood dominating on the mound in a 5-0 De La Salle victory on March 12 at St. Francis.
Rogers and St. Francis won a pitcher’s duel against Palo Alto in this year’s CCS Division I championship. The Lancers were 17-12 in the previous full season of baseball.
The Spartans bested Del Campo and Foothill in the two prior games of this tournament. De La Salle also defeated Foothill in the NCS Championship, its fifth straight NCS crown (dating back to 2016).
“I think this team had to battle a little bit more,” Jeans said in reference to past Spartan teams. “In terms of grittiness and leadership that you guys you don’t see, I think they’re number one.”
“We just needed one base runner at a time and get the next guy up, that’s been our motto this whole year. First NorCal Champion in history,” Martinez said. “It’s an awesome title to have it over everyone else, and I’m sure this is the first of many.”