Grizzlies pull one out in playoff win over Roseville

Granite Bay closes out Tigers with hidden-ball trick
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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It had to dig deep to do so on Monday night, but the Granite Bay High baseball team pulled out a 3-2 win over its rival from Roseville High in a crucial playoff test. The Grizzlies went into their bag of tricks and pulled out an oldie to close out the game, when the hidden ball trick resulted in the game’s final out. The champions of the Sierra Foothill League now own four wins in four tries against the third-place Tigers, but this game at Sacramento City College’s Union Stadium was no walk in the park. “This Roseville team has grown a lot since the last time we saw them and that was just about three weeks ago,” said Granite Bay coach Pat Esposito. “They have a bunch of scary guys and they play defense so when you let them hang around, they have some guys who can beat you. They are still young and have arrived here a little ahead of schedule and they’re really going to be scary next year.” With the start of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II postseason matchup delayed one hour and 20 minutes as the night’s first contest between Rocklin and Oak Ridge went into extra innings, the teams started sluggishly with the sticks. Whether the cold night air or all of the waiting for the game to start had an impact or if it was just great pitching, the game was really dominated from the bump. “I don’t think the delay really impacted us much,” Esposito said. “This is the playoffs and there is no reason not to be excited. If anything, we may have been a little too amped up when the game started.” Granite Bay senior southpaw Kyle Schlehofer and Roseville senior right-hander Tyler Ash did all they could do, but Ash’s struggles with one hitter, Nate Esposito, in particular and a trick play that ended a late Tiger rally ultimately spelled the difference. “I don’t think he throws a straight pitch,” said Roseville coach Hank DeMello in discussing Ash. “He works fast and keeps the ball down and keeps people off balance. It’s nice to watch.” It looked like the Grizzlies were going to get out of the gates quickly when their first two hitters reached base to open the top half of the first frame, but Jake Riffice, who was hit by a pitch, and Esposito, who walked, were left stranded. Roseville then plated a run in its half of the first without benefit of a hit. Matt Hack walked to lead things off, and while a strikeout and another base on balls followed, the speedy left fielder moved around to third on a pair of passed balls. A Dalton Blaser groundout brought Hack home with the game’s initial run. Ash proved difficult for the Grizzlies to solve as he once again kept an opponent from squaring up a whole lot of balls. “Ash has that three-quarters arm slot that tends to make the ball tail in to right hand batters a little,” Pat Esposito said. “He struggled with the breaking ball early but once he found it, he was throwing it for strikes and he really did a great job all night long.” The exception proved to be Nate Esposito. Granite Bay leveled the score in the top of the third on a Adam Mastrantonio base hit, the Grizzlies’ first safety of the contest, and an Esposito laser over the head of Hack in left that went for an RBI two-bagger. “Nate has been a little in and out all year,” Pat Esposito said. “He’s been working on getting through the ball and is starting to come around. He is hitting a lot of line drives.” Schlehofer was in command most of the way, but in the third, Hack’s infield single was the first knock for the Tigers. A pair of two-out walks loaded the bases for Roseville, but the lefty got the inning-ending strikeout to maintain the tie score. “Schle is an interesting character,” Pat Esposito said. “Sometimes he is really on and has great command and is more hittable and other days he is a little off and has his best days. That effective wildness was good for him tonight. I thought the best thing about his performance was the way he maintained his composure.” Granite Bay took its first lead of the game in the top of the fifth after Ash fanned the first two Grizzly batters. He made the mistake of walking Riffice and had to face Esposito, with Riffice at second after a stolen base. The junior third baseman ripped another rod to deep left field, but this time Hack and centerfielder Beau Smith were on the move at the crack of the bat. The duo arrived in the vicinity of the ball near the base of the wall in left-centerfield, but a moment of miscommunication was just enough to ensure that the ball found its way to the turf, giving Esposito a run-scoring triple. “That miscommunication hurt in a close game,” DeMello said. “They were both calling the ball and then both pulled off.” The 2-1 tally held up until the Grizzlies tacked on one more in the top half of the seventh. A walk, a sacrifice bunt and a groundout left Granite Bay with pinch-runner Brock Kent at third and two out. With Esposito as the Grizzly hitter having the best swings against Ash, Roseville coach Hank DeMello decided to put the red-hot third baseman aboard and deal instead with Granite Bay’s No. 3 hitter, Andrew Knapp. The UC-Berkeley-bound catcher made them pay with a line drive back through the box. “I was a little surprised with the decision to walk Nate,” Pat Esposito said. “It’s really playing with fire to put him on to get to Andrew Knapp. It’s not something you would usually see. Andrew came through with a great at-bat, hitting a line drive that knocked off Ash’s glove and getting the run home.” Ash got a glove on it, but the ball fell harmlessly to the infield grass for an RBI infield single that increased the advantage to 3-1 with just three defensive outs left for Granite Bay. A one-out single by Conner Eggleston kept the Roseville hopes alive, and when Beau Smith walked while Schlehofer seemed to be spending an inordinate amount of time worrying about pinch runner Dillon Larson at first base, the Tigers were in business with two on and just one out. Hack reached on a fielder’s choice and then Nick Blaser, in just his second game back after missing the entire regular season with a torn meniscus in his knee, flared a single just out of the reach of Riffice at shortstop to chase home Larson and put the Tigers in a two-on, two-out situation that had the blazing speed of Hack as the tying run at second with No. 3 hitter Anthony Roberts at the dish. “Roberts is a dangerous hitter and Hack can really run,” Pat Esposito said. “I am sure that came into play when our guys decided to go with the hidden-ball play. That is not something we work on at all and it is not something that is called from the dugout. It is something done by the players on the field.” Roseville never got to see what might have been as Granite Bay second baseman Riley Drongesen pulled the hidden ball trick, tagging Hack out when he stepped off second base for a split second. The out ended the game with the Grizzlies on top and up one in the best-of-three section semifinal series. “I spent the night imagining what would have happened if they had not pulled that little play,” DeMello said. “It would have been nice to see what could have happened if we had played it straight up, but this stuff happens in baseball.” Esposito and Eggleston were the only two players in the game with more than one hit as the Grizzlies did their damage on just four hits, while Roseville banged out a total of five. Ash struck out just three in going the distance, but his ability to keep hitters off balance was once again his forte. Schlehofer fanned eight Tigers in his complete game performance. The two teams will be back out at Sacramento City College at 5 p.m. Wednesday for game two. If Granite Bay gets that one, it will move on to the section title game Memorial Day, but a Roseville win will force a second game that same night to determine the series winner. “Our guys are upset,” DeMello said. “I really like the look in these guy’s eyes the last couple of weeks. They are focused with a backs to the wall type thing and they are scratching and clawing. We’ve been through this before recently when we went to Del Oro and beat them twice at their place, and we haven’t had much success lately against Del Oro.”