Lions looking for the three-peat
It seems that every time we look up at championship time in small-school sports, Roseville’s Valley Christian Academy and its league rivals from Bradshaw Christian are right there.
It is no wonder, then, that as this year’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII baseball championship contest approaches, that those two will be there.
In two meetings earlier this year during Sacramento Metro Athletic League play, VCA came out on top, but it had to scratch and claw for everything it got. The one thing we did not see was a head-to-head matchup between two of the area’s top pitchers, but that will come on Monday.
VCA coach Brad Gunter is cautiously confident coming into this championship game, after winning the last two.
“I like where we are at as a team right now,” Gunter said. “We have come a long way this season and are where I felt we should have been at the beginning of the season. The late start and the rough beginning put a lot of doubt in the kids heads, but I have seen life in their eyes lately that tells me they are confident in each other.”
Lion ace Ryan Cordell and Bradshaw right-hander Brady Dragmire will toe the slab in what promises to be a dynamic pitching matchup.
“I think Monday will be a well-fought contest,” Gunter said. “I do think it will be a low-scoring affair with Cordell and Dragmire matching up. Dragmire has two extra days rest over Cordell, but we are hoping that Cordell’s experience in this game will carry him through. Dragmire, just like Cordell, pounds the strike zone and you must come up with clutch hits with runners in scoring position to beat him.”
The familiarity of the opponent has made motivation and preparation a bit easier for Gunter’s Lions, but it also gives them a thorough understanding of the challenge ahead.
“We knew going into the playoffs that they had a great shot at making it to the finals and it was our job to do our part to meet them there,” Gunter said. “With the basketball shared league title with them and the close games the last week of the season, it has been very easy for the guys to get ready for this game. We have a lot of respect and admiration for their team and coaching staff and are looking forward to the challenge.”
The Lions have won the last two D7 titles, and as they look to make it three in a row, Gunter knows that defense may very well be a major key.
“We have to make plays behind Cordell,” Gunter said. “The last time Cordell pitched against them we made six costly errors and we cannot do that Monday. They have speed in the lineup and are very aggressive on the base paths, and they have pop in the lineup that can move guys around the bases quickly.”
The Pride has been hit a little bit by the injury bug, but they have battled through, and arrive at this season finale with a lot of confidence.
‘The matchup with Bradshaw is a big one, more importantly the matchup against Dragmire,” Gunter said. “They are a very solid baseball team and even better when he is on the mound. They had a key injury last week when they lost their centerfielder and number five hitter, Atkins. That is a big loss for anybody and I hate to see that with any player or team. Their other players have stepped up during the playoffs and made up for the loss, but that is a significant bat out of the lineup for them.”
As for his own lineup, Gunter has to love what he has going on up at the top of the batting order. Paul Finnell and Jimmy Shaw do a nice job setting the table, while Cordell and Junior Casas lead the charge in cleaning it off. Teams like to pitch around Cordell when they can, so the performance of the other Lions will be crucial.
“Offensively I think we must get a few two-out RBI hits and the players around Cordell have to stay hot,” Gunter said. “For obvious reasons, Cordell has not had many pitches to work with during this playoff run and the team has to pick him up and force them to pitch to him.”
Monday’s Division VII championship contest will begin at noon at Sacramento City College.
Sac-Joaquin Section baseball championship games
Memorial Day, Monday, May 31
Division VII – Valley Christian vs. Bradshaw Christian, noon, Union Stadium at Sac City College
Division II – Granite Bay vs. Rocklin or Oak Ridge, 6 p.m., Union Stadium at Sac City College