NCS baseball: Casa Grande wins opener, 4-1

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Top-seeded and sure to be tested, Casa Grande is staying loose in the section playoffs as the Gauchos showed in coming from behind for an opening-round win Tuesday.

Casa Grande welcomes the role as the targeted team in the North Coast Section Division 2 baseball playoffs. Prepared to take every opponent’s best, the Gauchos are a deep squad with several pitching aces, a disciplined defense and timely hitting.

“The top seed is awesome. Our goal is set so let’s go out there and win it,” said Anthony Bender, who threw a complete-game five hitter in the 4-1 win over Pinole Valley to open section play.

Confidence comes with only two losses on the season and more than half the Gauchos’ 25 victories by a single run.

Bolstering the Gauchos’ hopes is a decided edge playing on their often breezy and always noisy home field.

“It’s an advantage to us,” said Nate Bills, who stroked the go-ahead single in the fifth inning Tuesday. “We’re used to these close games. We never really worry.”

Tuesday’s game didn’t play like a No. 1 facing a bottom seed. Pinole Valley made only one error and pitched well.

“We knew we had the talent and the ability. It felt good putting up a fight against them,” said leadoff hitter and captain Garrett Mann. “It was good to give them a scare.”

Pinole Valley scored first on an infield single by Jake Banuelos to get Mann home in the opening frame.

An inning later, Casa Grande took advantage of an error and wild pitch to tie the contest.

With top starter Bender steadying to retire 15 of 17 batters after the Spartans scored, Casa Grande’s hitters needed to do their job.

While the Gauchos put multiple runners on the base paths in all but two innings, Pinole Valley starter Jeff Kersten was tough when he needed big outs. The right-hander stranded six runners through the first four innings.

A leadoff walk to Jake Ielmorini would spark Casa Grande in the fifth inning.

After a steal and sacrifice fly, he was at third base. Bills followed with his run-scoring single on an inside fastball, his first game-winning single this season.

“It’s always someone new at the plate,” Bills said. “I was just trying to work the middle. That was my approach the whole day.”

Gusting winds knocked down fly balls. One was to Casa Grande’s benefit as Charlie Parnow got enough on a two-out hit to left field to score two more Gauchos.

Spreading hits throughout the lineup has been Casa Grande’s strength this season and was a big difference against Pinole Valley.

Still, standing out this day was Bender’s ace effort on the mound. The senior right-hander struck out seven against only one walk.

“That was big. It just keeps me in the zone,” the strike thrower said.

You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or mike.coit@pressdemocrat.com.

SCORES

Tuesday’s results

BASEBALL

Division 2

Casa Grande 4, Pinole Valley 1

Cardinal Newman 4, Alameda 1

Campolindo 2, Montgomery 0

Division 3

Analy 2, Hercules 0

Division 4

St. Patrick/St. Vincent 8, Clear Lake 0

Kelseyville 10, McKinleyville 1

Division 5

ValleyChristian 11, Sonoma Academy 5

Division 6

CSFD 3, Anderson Valley 2

Point Arena 3, Pescadero 0

Ferndale 2, Archbishop Hanna 1 (8)

SOFTBALL

Division 5

Athenian 9, Calistoga 6

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