NCS playoffs: Walkoff blast lifts Casa over College Park, 12-11

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Casa Grande third baseman Casey Longaker tags out College Park's Austin Garcia on Wednesday. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

Casa Grande third baseman Casey Longaker tags out College Park’s Austin Garcia on Wednesday. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

Comebacks and close wins define successful teams and Casa Grande packed a season’s worth of excitement into a 12-11 section semifinal victory over College Park on Wednesday.

Scoring five runs to forge a tie and battling back with three to deadlock the game again, Casa Grande walked off with the win on a Francis Christy two-run blast over the right field fence — in the 13th inning.

Determined to win, the teams played nearly two games worth of playoff baseball to settle the contest. Casa Grande moves on to the North Coast Section Division 2 title game against Campolindo on Saturday at Santa Rosa Junior College.

“That’s been the goal all year. There was never a doubt,” Christy said. “We’re just a grinding kind of team.”

Winning yet another one-run game — Casa Grande is a remarkable 16-0 in those contests this season — the Gauchos are a confident squad.

Sturdy defense and deep pitching again carried the day.

“We knew we could pull it out because of how far we’ve come and what we’ve done,” said winning pitcher Dominic Garihan, who went six-plus innings in relief.

Also good in tight games is College Park, a young, fearless team that couldn’t close out top-seeded Casa Grande.

“We were confident. We were expecting to be here,” said Anthony Baleto, a senior leader. “They’re good fighters. We just got everyone on our team to be in this.”

Competing with Casa Grande from the opening pitch, College Park took the lead in the opening inning on a run-scoring double from starting pitcher Joe DeMers.

Responding with two runs in the bottom half, Casa Grande played trademark Gauchos small ball. A walk, bunt single and groundout produced the first run.

Then cleanup hitter Nate Bills squeeze-bunted across the go-ahead run. Gauchos starter Eric Parnow settled into a groove, retiring nine straight Falcons before issuing a walk with an out in the fourth inning. Baleto would later drive home the tying run.

The game was moving along with DeMers also strong on the mound. The hard-throwing right-hander had seven strikeouts through four frames. Then he pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth. What followed was a hit parade with both sides banging the ball.

First the Falcons reeled off a five spot on six hits. The big blow was an Austin Garcia two-run double.

Then the Gauchos responded with their own five-run, six-hit inning. Jake Ielmorini got it going with a two-run single to left field.

In a battle of the bullpens, Casa Grande had an ace in Garihan. Normally the No. 2 starter, the right-hander made big pitches to limit the hard-hitting Falcons to four runs.

“You’ve always got to be ready to throw,” Garihan said.

College Park’s final run came on a sacrifice fly from Scott Hroza, putting the Falcons up 11-10. Yet the Falcons’ fourth lead of the game would soon fade in the evening’s darkening shadows.

After an errant infield throw put leadoff batter Isiah Ayala on base, Christy belted the game-winner. Four innings earlier the catcher left the winning run at third base, popping out to the catcher.

“I just wasn’t getting my pitch to hit. Sometimes I’m a little too picky,” Christy said. “That one was a fastball waist high.”

Such an intense contest with all out efforts on both sides demanded a definitive ending.

“It was fun,” Garihan said. “It was a battle to the end.”

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