It had been nine years since Central Valley High School’s last appearance in the Sac-Joaquin Section baseball playoffs — a forgettable 8-0 loss to Cosumnes Oaks in the opening round of the 2013 Division IV tournament.
The Hawks’ second playoff appearance, however, never will be forgotten.
No. 14 Central Valley scored twice in the sixth inning Tuesday for a 3-2, a come-from-behind stunner over No. 3 Elk Grove, a victory so improbable it would’ve made Kentucky Derby long-shot Rich Strike seem like the morning-line favorite.
Elk Grove is the most successful program in the section’s history with 11 championship banners and a reputation for churning out baseball talent.
Take it from San Francisco Giants announcers Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper.
During Wednesday’s broadcast of the Giants’ game against Colorado, Krukow referred to Rockies’ catcher Dom Nunez as “the pride of Elk Grove.”
To which Kuiper replied, “I thought (St. Louis’) Dylan Carlson was.”
Krukow added, “And (Milwaukee’s) Rowdy Tellez, too.”
Kuiper then summed it up nicely. “It’s a baseball factory.”
And they didn’t even mention, J.D. Davis (Mets), Derek Hill (Tigers), Nick Madrigal (Cubs) and David Freitas (Yankees minor leagues).
Meanwhile, Central Valley’s history is the polar opposite.
The Hawks have never won a conference title, finished above .500 just four times in school history and have never had a player go on to play NCAA Division I baseball, let alone professional baseball.
Yet, somehow, they found a way.
Trailing 2-1 with two outs in the sixth, Sammy Wilson and Garret Garcia singled to put runners on first and second. Miguel Espinoza then singled to right, plating Wilson with the tying run and moving pinch-runner Angel Flores to third.
At that point, when Elk Grove coach Joe Bellotti visited the mound to set his defense, Central Valley assistant Brad Bussard presented an idea to his skipper.
“He told me, ‘If we get two strikes against our hitter, I want to put a play on,’” said Hawks head coach Derrick Goblirsch. “I said, ‘Absolutely.’”
With two strikes agains pinch-hitter Alan Lopez, Central Valley ran the first-and-third trap play.
As Elk Grove pitcher Andrew Hutcheson came set, Espinoza prematurely — and intentionally — broke for second. Hutcheson stepped off, checked the runner at third, and then threw toward second in an attempt to nab Espizona. However, his throw sailed into the outfield and Flores scampered home with what proved to be the winning run.
Central Valley starter Gabriel Lopez, who threw a no-hitter against Golden Valley on May 4 just to get his team into the postseason, was solid for five innings against the Herd. But the Hawks’ ace, who has committed to play at San Francisco State and entered the game as the section’s leader in strikeouts (Turlock Christian’s Gavin Farinha fanned 20 Wednesday to take over the top spot), struck out just two Elk Grove batters, who were starting to time his pitches and make solid contact.
So, Goblirsch called upon freshman southpaw Chris Garcia (81 strikeouts, 58 innings pitched, 1.09 ERA) for a six-out save.
“We decided to go with Chris, who’s a lefty, hides the ball well and has a little different velocity. We thought that would throw off their timing a little bit,” said Goblirsch. “In my mind, the way he’s pitched all year, he doesn’t seem like a freshman.”
Garcia walked three but also fanned three. And when he got Ryan Zamora to line out to right, the Hawks stormed the field for a raucous celebration, chanting, “Why not us? Why not us?”
Central Valley will travel to El Dorado Hills today to take on No. 6 Oak Ridge, a 5-4 winner over No. 11 Lincoln on Tuesday.
Garcia, who threw 47 pitches Tuesday, will make the start against the Trojans.
“In my mind, this is about as shocking an upset as I’ve ever heard of in my time at the section and even at The Modesto Bee,” said Will DeBoard, the section’s assistant commissioner and a former sports reporter. “Elk Grove makes long, deep runs in the playoffs every year and they were eliminated by a team that’s never won a playoff game and, quite frankly, was just happy to be there.
“It’s quite shocking. It really is.”