Grizzlies come up short once more against Rocklin

Granite Bay loses section title game
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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It is a hurdle that the Granite Bay High baseball team has yet to figure out a way to leap. The combination of Rocklin High and its ace left-hander Matt Fielding was too much for the Grizzlies once again Monday night at Sacramento City College. Granite Bay managed just two hits as it dropped the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship game to Rocklin 4-2 before a large crowd inside Union Stadium. It was the third time in four years that the Thunder have captured the section crown at the expense of their rivals from Granite Bay. This time, the Grizzlies won the league regular season title, but were unable to get to Fielding in the battle for the section flag. “We told our guys that we accomplished a lot with that league title,” Esposito. “We hung a banner in the gym for that, and it took 18 games to get there. I’ll take 14-4 and the SFL title. You come to a game like this and it is a one-game thing and anything can happen in one game.” On this night, what happened was some timely Rocklin hitting and another outstanding performance from its Oregon State-bound southpaw star. “You have to give it up to Fielding,” Esposito said. “They make five errors behind the guy and he still got it done tonight. He beat us. Truth is, their pitcher was better than our pitcher tonight.” The trouble for Granite Bay started with Rocklin’s very first batter of the game. Granite Bay’s senior starter, SFL MVP Braden Young threw a nasty breaking ball in the dirt to Rocklin leadoff man Austin Diemer for an apparent strikeout, but the ball got away from catcher Andrew Knapp and Diemer reached safely. A passed ball, a sacrifice bunt and a Justin Castro ground ball to shortstop followed, providing just enough to get Diemer home and stake Fielding to an early one-run advantage. The two pitchers took turns posting zeroes through the third, with Young doing a nice job keeping the Rocklin hitters putting the ball on the ground. With some nice defensive from his infield – Nate Esposito at third, Jake Riffice at shortstop and Riley Drongesen at second – the right-hander trailed by just the one run heading into the home half of the third. Still without a hit in the contest, Granite Bay put two runners aboard in the third as both Jimmy Jack and Nate Esposito reached on errors. With those two aboard, Knapp squared one up, but his line drive was right at Castro, the Thunder shortstop, and resulted in the third out of the inning. Rocklin extended its lead in the fourth as it finally found some holes for those ground balls. Young allowed just one hit through three, but gave up four straight singles – Castro, Wes Marker, Trevor McVey and Kyle Garvella – to open the frame. Knapp gunned down Marker while stealing second to limit the damage, but the McVey hit did chase home Castro with the game’s second run. “That’s what they do so well,” Esposito said. “(Rocklin coach) Roc (Murray) has done great things with that group of kids. They don’t hit a lot of home runs or power balls to the gaps, but they get guys on base and then keep moving them along. You can’t afford to give them extra base runners like we did tonight.” As Fielding worked a no-hitter into the fourth, Granite Bay finally got a lift that it thought would be the turning point. Jake Marjama walked to open the inning, and then Drongesen moved him up 90 feet with a sacrifice bunt, and then Fielding made two mistakes. He escaped the first one as his two-strike pitch to Andrew Wilson got too much of the strike zone. The Granite Bay right fielder blasted a fly ball to the wall in centerfield, and with the Rocklin defense swung around toward right field, it was up to left fielder Scott Moller, who went a long way to haul in the drive at the base of the fence. Having dodged one bullet, Fielding could not dodge the second as the next hitter, Matt Gifford, launched a ball in a similar direction. Moller could not help on this one, however, as it sailed over the wall for a game-tying two-run home run. “We had some guys missing (Sean Sundberg and Jordan Weber), but we had some other guys just step up and get it done for us,” Esposito said. “Gifford has been in and out of the lineup all year, but we put him in there and he gets it done. We lose Weber to injury and Adam (Mastrantonio) steps in and plays a great centerfield for us.” For Granite Bay, the euphoria of that moment was short-lived as they were unable to build on it. Two walks opened the Rocklin fifth, and with runners at first and third and two outs, Young wheeled to make a pick-off throw at first base, but did not release the ball. The umpire at second base called the balk, sending Chris Streeter across home plate with the go-ahead run. A somewhat flustered Young then gave up a run-scoring single to Marker that put the Thunder back on top by two runs. Granite Bay went quietly in the fifth, and managed just an infield single by Drongesen in the sixth, as Kyle Schlehofer came in from the bullpen to keep Rocklin within reach. The Grizzlies got the top of the order up in the home half of the final frame, as Jack and No. 9 hitter Adam Mastrantonio reached on two more infield errors by the Thunder, but they were unable to get anyone home. Riffice grounded into a force at third and then Esposito grounded out to first, and Rocklin (24-8) was celebrating another section title. An ugly incident with a Rocklin parent taunting the Granite Bay team and crowd after the final out put a slight damper on the festivities, but the Thunder moved on to celebrate their third title in four seasons. “They play very well and they have a great team,” said Rocklin coach Roc Murray. “(Granite Bay coach) Pat (Esposito) has done a good job and that’s a tremendous program. We’ve been really lucky to get them three times (for section titles). Honestly, I would rather have played anybody but Granite Bay today.” The Grizzlies (22-9) will have to settle for that league title and regroup for next year without a very impressive group of seniors, many of whom will move on to play at the next level. “It’s really not all about wins and losses at this level,” Esposito said. “We’re about helping these kids get better and then watching them as they move on to play at higher levels. We have two from this group (Knapp to Cal and Drongesen to UOP) already set to move on and a couple of others who will also get a shot at the next level. I am really going to miss this group of seniors. These are some great kids.”