The Patriots were able to challenge the Falcons’ stranglehold on the league title, claiming a co-championship this year. When the two teams met on Friday in the second round of the North Coast Section playoffs, a little more was at stake than just advancing to the next round.
Fifth-seeded Heritage emerged victorious in a blustery 6-0 victory, moving on to its first semifinal game.
“We did the little things,” Heritage head coach Ron Rivers said. “We had better focus on defense and we capitalized when we could.”
What seemed to be a pitchers’ duel between Freedom sophomore Madison Williams and Patriots junior Lisa Rodrigues turned into a one-sided game in the third inning.
Williams began the frame by giving up a hit and then hitting a batter. After an error at first base – a constant problem for the Falcons (17-8) on Friday – Williams gave up a two-run double to Heritage sophomore catcher Malia Rivers. Two batters later, senior right fielder Deni Yandell rapped out a single, driving home two more runs to make it 4-0.
The Patriots (15-7) scored again the next inning when Williams hit junior second baseman Marissa Ortiz with the bases loaded. Rodrigues helped her own cause in the seventh inning by belting a home run over the left field fence.
Rivers finished 2-for-3 with two RBI, a run and a stolen base. Yandell went 1-for-4 on the afternoon. Rodrigues was in control all day in the circle, giving up just four hits and striking out four.
“My team really stepped up today,” Rodrigues said. “Now we have a chance to move forward and actually take it all.”
Despite Williams’ wildness – five hit batsmen – she was effective, managing to strike out 10 Patriots. Senior centerfielder Malena Padilla finished 1-for-3.
Freedom head coach Jeff Jonas was not disappointed in his team’s effort in this game or this season. After losing several infielders to graduation, Jonas expected this year to be more of a transition for the fourth-seeded Falcons. Freedom was able to claim another league title, and Williams will return to pitch for two more years, so the future is still bright. The team also returns talented players such as junior third baseman Brianna Simpson and sophomore catcher Iniki Kaleialii.
“I’m so proud of these kids,” Jonas said. “To grind it out and be there at the end – that was huge. That showed a lot of character. It just shows their class. They dedicated themselves and they work hard.”
Heritage advances to face top-seeded James Logan (21-3) on Tuesday in Union City.
Newark Memorial 1, Antioch 0
A hard-fought game between third-seeded Newark Memorial and No. 6 seed Antioch came down to an error. A fielding miscue by the Panthers’ shortstop brought home the game’s only run in the third inning.
Antioch (16-6) senior pitcher Paris Imholz, as she has been all season, was on top of her game. She was nearly perfect, allowing just three hits and no walks while striking out five. Imholz also went 2-for-3 at the plate.
“We battled back and had runners in position; we just couldn’t pull ahead,” Panthers head coach Brook Russo said. “(Newark) is a really good team and we battled with them.”
Freshman outfielder Shelbi Graifman, along with Imholz, each contributed a double. Graifman finished 1-for-3.
Junior pitcher Marissa Chapa earned the win for the Cougars (22-3), striking out nine.
Heritage 4, San Ramon Valley 2
The Heritage baseball squad earned one of the biggest wins in school history on Friday, upsetting top-seeded San Ramon Valley 4-2 in the second round of the NCS playoffs.
Senior outfielder Ryan Howell finished 3-for-4 and scored two runs. Senior third baseman Dayton Mellor went 2-for-3, driving in two runs.
The eighth-seeded Patriots (20-6) got a great effort from senior southpaw Jack Jorgenson, who fanned eight batters in 5 2/3 innings. Junior righty Paul Blackburn went the rest of the way for the save.
“Any time you can knock off a No. 1 team, it feels wonderful,” Heritage manager Kevin Brannan said. “It was kind of getting over the hump a little bit to beat an (East Bay Athletic League) team. Our guys came ready to play today.”
The Patriots put up two runs in the first inning, then Wolves (18-7) junior shortstop Max Dutto tied it up with a two-run homer. Heritage scored one more time in the sixth and again in the seventh to cement the victory.
Brannan is crossing his fingers that the Patriots, BVAL champions, can continue their momentum into Tuesday’s matchup with fourth-seeded De La Salle (19-7).
“I’m hoping the kids feed off of it a bit,” Brannan said, “and it becomes something that they start to expect rather than ‘Wow, look what we did.’”