Lions claim third Division VII title in four years
LODI — Brad Gunter Sr. made his way to his son’s office Monday morning, using a walker to aid his ailing back.
Gunter, normally a fixture at Valley Christian Academy’s baseball games, wouldn’t be able to attend the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII championship final because of that bad back and other health issues.
He had a message for his son.
“In tears, he said, ‘I don’t care how you do it. Just find a way,’” head coach Brad Gunter Jr. said. “I’m proud of the kids, but I gotta take this to my dad on the way home.”
“This” was a blue section championship banner, presented to the Lions after their 3-1 victory over Tracy-Millennium at Tony Zupo Field. It’s Valley Christian’s third section title in four years.
Gunter also planned to stop at Sacramento City College on his way home to watch Roseville play in the Division II final. He and Roseville coach Hank DeMello exchanged text messages, and Gunter alerted DeMello to the Lions’ victory.
“The goal was to bring two banners back to Roseville,” Gunter said.
It happened. The Tigers knocked off defending Division II-champion Rocklin 4-2 on Monday night.
In Lodi, Valley Christian (18-9) took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning on back-to-back doubles by sophomore Jimmy Shaw and senior Junior Casas. The left-handed Shaw stroked an opposite-field worm-burner inside the bag at third. Casas followed with an opposite-field drive to right.
Shaw stopped the Falcons (17-9) on four hits through four innings, but the Tracy school tied it in the fifth on Jamani Woods’ leadoff hit and Daniel Yanez’s RBI single off freshman reliever Jeremiah Moore.
“When they tied it up, it’s going to take a big hit,” Gunter recalled thinking.
The Lions got it from Casas, who launched an 0-1 fastball from Millennium sophomore Austin Larson high and over the fence in left-center to lead off the seventh.
“Man, it just changed everything. I was just pumped up. Speechless,” said Casas, who had three of Valley Christian’s four hits. “I just knew it was out.”
Micky DeFiebre then was hit by a pitch, went to second on a wild pitch and scored when pinch hitter Joey Parker reached base on a throwing error.
“We were able to breathe just a little bit more,” Gunter said.
Larson, with smooth mechanics, retired 16 of 17 hitters before Casas’ bomb. Larson didn’t walk a batter and struck out. He threw 10 pitches in the fifth, all strikes.
The Lions needed the runs. Millennium loaded the bases in the last of the seventh on a one-out single and back-to-back errors. Moore then struck out Tanner Carroll, and Millennium freshman Spencer Blackwell lined out to Perchaz in right.
Shaw and Moore combined to scatter seven hits and struck out six.
Valley Christian didn’t win a league championship for the first time in 14 years, but it won another section banner.
“When that last ball was hit, I almost forgot that we had just moved Aaron to the scouting report. Because the ball was hit so hard, my heart sort of fluttered,” Gunter said of Blackwell’s hard-hit ball. “The scouting report said if he hits it hard, he’s going to hit it there.”