NCS baseball playoffs: St. Vincent falls to Athenian 6-4

By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PETALUMA — The season and a 23-game home winning streak over nearly two years ended for St. Vincent de Paul on Saturday in the second round of the CIF North Coast Section Division 5 playoffs, but the Mustangs can take solace that they didn’t go quietly.

Visiting No. 5 Athenian (Danville) defeated No. 4 St. Vincent’s 6-4 and moves on to play Bay Counties-East league rival Valley Christian in the semifinals next week. The Mustangs will pack their bags knowing that they gave it their all going down in defeat to a team from a powerful league.

“The game was well-played on both sides,” St. Vincent’s coach Gary Galloway said. “They (Athenian) play in a tougher league than we do — no question.”

St. Vincent’s (19-5) would have won if not for the two star Owl players (James Smart and Cameron Cotton) who took over the game in the late innings.

“Their (Athenian) number two (Smart) and three (Cotton) hitters are the best I have seen all year,” Galloway said. “Their pitchers (Smart and Cotton) have got good velocity.”

With the game tied 4-4 going into the seventh inning, Athenian broke through for two runs off two Mustangs’ relievers to take a lead 6-4. The runs came with the bases loaded and one out after Smart (4-for-5) smashed a single to right field for two RBI.

“Smart led our league in hitting,” Athenian coach Rick Steen said. “The top three guys in the order carry us.”

Smart started for Athenian and went six innings, giving up four runs and four hits with eight strike outs. Flamethrower Cotton (W) came in to pitch the seventh and mowed down three hitters in short order on blazing fastballs to close out the game.

“Smart did a good job pitching,” Steen said. “When he throws strikes he is on. We felt we needed to get to the seventh inning (today) with a lead and hand the ball over to Cotton.”

“With their kid (Cotton) who closed today’s game starting (pitching), Athenian can win the whole thing,” Galloway said.

St. Vincent’s took a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a booming two-run double by Alex Neve, who along with teammate Dusty Oliver led the Mustangs offensively with hits in 14 of their last 15 games.

Due to injuries, St. Vincent’s had to press freshman Liam Galten into service as the Mustangs starter. Galten gave up only two runs despite surrendering six hits in three innings.

“We had pitching tryouts all over again this week,” Galloway said. “Galten did a good job and he kept it close. He was ahead of almost every batter.”

Athenian evened the game 2-2 in the second inning on an RBI-single by Matt Chabala and an RBI-double by Smart.

St. Vincent’s took a 3-2 lead in the third inning but the Owls retook the lead 4-3 with a two-run sixth inning. Cotton and Dylan De Walt both drove in a run with RBI singles.

The Mustangs, however, didn’t fold up and came back in the sixth with a run for a 4-4 tie. Oliver led off with a triple and scored on a wild pitch.

“That is a good team — St. Vincent’s. It was a battle,” Steen said. “Their outfield is the best we have played against this year. They cut off balls in the gaps and prevented us from taking extra bases. They made discipline throws.”

For the eighth consecutive season St. Vincent’s has made the NCS playoffs, reaching at least the quarterfinals five years running.

“This has been one of the greatest comeback seasons as a group in all my seasons (29 years) coaching here,” Galloway said. “These guys finished strong and were passionate about the game.”

 

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