Vikings claim 2017 CVC title; prep for postseason
It’s that time of year.
All of the hard work, the sweat, the blood — it all comes down to two weeks of postseason play.
Oakmont High School is ready.
After setting school history with their first Capital Valley Conference championship thanks to a three-game sweep against Roseville last week, the Vikings enter the playoffs with a wave of momentum on their side.
“That’s huge for our program, and that’s what I told our kids,” Oakmont’s coach Paul Martinez explained. “When I got the job a few years ago, I have a lot of friends in the coaching profession and guys were telling me to wait, take a different job, because they said our athletic department has struggled to win in this league.
“But I liked the community, I liked the school, I like the kids we have here and it was a good fit. So to be here, at this point in time, for our program, it’s big. I’m really happy and proud of our guys.”
Entering the final week of the regular season, Oakmont needed to stay in a tie with Whitney to remain atop the standings and capture the title. In fact, both programs finished 15-6 in league play, but the Vikings owned the tiebreaker after taking two of three games from the Wildcats in their series back in early April, with a makeup game in mid-April.
“We had a lot of people saying, ‘You can’t do it. You won’t be able to do it,’ but our response was, ‘Just watch us,’” Oakmont senior Carlos Salaiz stated. “That’s one of the reasons we’re so good, we don’t talk. We show up and get the job done.”
Salaiz was instrumental in his team’s recent sweep.
After going 4-for-4 from the plate with four RBIs in Tuesday’s 11-5 win, he picked up a save on senior day Thursday and went 4.2 innings with four strikeouts Friday.
“He didn’t have his best stuff Friday, but Carlos is a competitor,” Martinez said. “He’s out there competing on guts and he’s an emotional kid. He wanted to win this, and we couldn’t have asked for a better situation with our best guy on the mound in our final game, with a championship on the line.”
The Tigers managed three runs off Salaiz, but Oakmont had a trio of hot hitters to help him out.
Senior Sean Acrea drove in three runs, freshman Carson Blatnick went 2-for-3 with an RBI and scored two runs and sophomores Greg Nichols and Luke Davies added a pair of RBIs each as the Vikings claimed a 16-4 victory.
Although the score from Friday’s finale looks like a blowout, it was just a 2-0 game in the fourth inning. Oakmont tacked on five runs to open it up and added seven runs in the seventh inning to seal a big victory for the program.
“That’s really important because teams in our league will get seeded pretty high,” Martinez pointed out. “Our league is so good that it will put us on the other side of the bracket from Benicia (21-5-1), which would be the No. 1 team in Division II based off MaxPreps’ ranking.”
Martinez is familiar with Benicia’s ace pitcher, Cole Eigenhuis, from his days of coaching the North-South team this past summer. But he also remembers his team’s 6-0 lost at Benicia to open the playoffs.
“We have a good idea of what we’d be up against if we played them again,” Martinez said. “They’re a good team, and their ace is very solid.”
The Vikings have seen a number of talented arms already this season in Del Campo’s Ryan Gil, Bella Vista’s Collin Carriger, Whitney’s Mike Galli and Roseville’s Lucas Gather. But they also boast a handful of the top arms in their own dugout.
Salaiz, Blatnick and senior Justin Salisbury give Oakmont a litany of different looks during the week.
“Sometimes it takes us a while, but we have the ability to make pitchers pay when they make a mistake,” Martinez stated. “We saw a lot of great arms in our league, and I’m not sure how much better they’ll be in the playoffs, but I think our guys can hit off anybody.”
Salisbury (.397), Acrea (.349) and Salaiz (.346) are the top three hitters on the team.
Salaiz transferred to Oakmont two years ago from Kennedy High in Fremont, where he won the MVAL (Mission Valley) title as a sophomore. Even back then, Salaiz could pitch and hit. As a sophomore, he drove in 12 runs, hit near .400 and owned a 1.91 ERA from the mound.
But he says moving to Roseville helped him become a more well-rounded player.
“The coaching staff here at Oakmont have absolutely transformed my game,” Salaiz admitted. “Coach Martinez, Richie Kim, Coach Blatnik, Coach Nolan. I came here not knowing anything and I am leaving with a family. Not that I’m done just yet, but I know these guys, these coaches will always have my back — that’s an amazing feeling.”
Salaiz led the CVC with 65 strikeouts this year, but he also faced the most hitters of any pitcher in the league (237).
With players like Salaiz on the mound, Martinez believes his team has what it takes to reach the section title game.
“We’ve played great defense and pitched well all year, so I think we’ll be fine,” Martinez said. “I know that’s essential when you get to this time of the year. Those things don’t tend to slump — if you’re throwing strikes and catching the ball, you’re going to have a chance to win.”
With a first-round bye, the Vikings will be back on the field Tuesday night, May 16 as the playoffs begin at American River College.