Valley Christian misses out on third title, falls to Bradshaw

Lions unable to make big plays to earn section title
By: Kurt Johnson, The Press Tribune
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So often in baseball it’s the small and simple things that spell the difference between winning and losing. For the Valley Christian Academy baseball team Monday, the little things were all that stood between it and a third straight Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII title. The story of the game was pretty well written in the first inning as Bradshaw Christian took the first steps towards a 4-2 victory at Sacramento City College. Bradshaw leadoff man Tyler Takahashi reached when VCA third baseman Donovan Allen could not handle his ground ball and then Lion starter Ryan Cordell plunked the next hitter to put two aboard right out of the chute. The Valley Christian ace right-hander was on the verge of pitching out of the early mess after a pop out and a fielder’s choice, but another miscue opened the door for three unearned runs. Takahashi scored on a passed ball, and then second baseman Micky Defiebre and centerfielder Paul Finnell came together on a fly ball just beyond the infield grass, allowing the ball to hit the turf as Alex Popovich scored a second run. Pride second baseman Austin Ragsdale then capped an inning that should have been long over with a run-scoring triple to left field. “We had to sit around for a half hour waiting to start the game,” said Valley Christian coach Brad Gunter. “I was hoping we wouldn’t be the first ones to mess up, but we were.” A three-run deficit against Bradshaw ace Brady Dragmire was not exactly where Gunter wanted to be after the first half inning, but his team seemed ready to respond. Finnell led off the VCA first with a single and advanced to third on an errant pick-off attempt and a passed ball. With one out, Cordell walked and stole second, putting runners at second and third. Junior Casas then hit a ground ball to third and Finnell was tossed out at the dish for the second out, essentially ending the threat. Dragmire closed out the inning the way he got so many outs in this big game, with a strikeout. The Lions really struggled with getting to the junior right-hander in two-strike situations as he fanned 11 VCA hitters in the contest. “The performance was good for Dragmire,” Gunter said. “He is a great kid and he deserves good things. When he got us to two strikes, we did not have a clue how to adjust and hit him. It became a guessing game, and we did not get it done.” Cordell settled in after the first, and the two dueling hurlers staged a great show of gutsy pitching. The goose eggs filled the scoreboard until Valley Christian finally got a little closer in the home half of the fifth. A leadoff walk to catcher Quentin Moore set the table, and after a strikeout, the next three batters singled for the Lions, as Finnell, Jimmy Shaw and Cordell all reached. The Shaw single scored Moore. With the bags juiced and just the one out, Dragmire struck out the next two hitters to close down the rally. He had also escaped a jam in the fourth, when Cordell doubled and Casas reached on an error to begin the innings. The Bradshaw hurler proceeded to pick Cordell off of second base and get two more strikeouts to evade that situation. The Pride pitcher took it upon himself to add an insurance run in the sixth. Dragmire doubled to open the stanza and got to third on a ground out, but Cordell got the punch out he needed to have his opposite number standing on third with two outs and a chance to escape. A walk put two on, and then Cordell got Nick Arthur to hit a cue shot in the direction of third base. Allen was a bit tentative in coming to the ball, and it took a sideways bounce on him, going for an RBI infield single. “When a guy is battling like Cordell was today, you have to make plays behind him,” Gunter said. “We just did not make enough plays and did not get enough big hits to get the win today.” A walk, a hit batter and an error loaded the bases again for Valley Christian in the sixth, and a Finnell sacrifice fly picked up one more run to close the gap to 4-2. For VCA that would be it as Casas slapped one off the third base bag in the seventh for a two-bagger, but that was the only Lion to reach base after Valley Christian pulled within two runs. Cordell allowed just four hits in his final performance at VCA and he also banged out two of the Lions’ six hits, but his team was never able to overcome the first inning hole. “I feel bad for Cordell,” Gunter said. “He’s a great player, but he’s an even better kid. He didn’t have his best stuff today, but he came up with pitches when he needed them. He was here to help me get my first section title and then the second one. We wanted three, but it just didn’t happen.” The loss brings to an end another solid season for Valley Christian baseball (20-8). “We started slow this year,” Gunter said. “We had a great comeback but today we ran into a buzz saw.”