Former Casa Grande star Bender leads SRJC to state sectionals

By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Casa Grande alum Anthony Bender was the hero Sunday as Santa Rosa JC defeated visiting Cabrillo, 2-1, to advance to the sectional round of the

Anthony Bender in 2013. (PD FILE, 2013)

Anthony Bender in 2013. (PD FILE, 2013)

California Community College State Tournament.

The No. 3 seeded Bear Cubs will travel to Stockton on Friday for a best-of-three series with No. 2 San Joaquin Delta.

Eight teams in the state are still alive. The four sectional winners, two from the northern part of the state and two from the south, will move on to the State Tournament which will be held May 24-26.

In Sunday’s elimination game, Bender pitched five innings of scoreless relief and knocked in what turned out to be the winning run in the eighth inning.

The 6-foot-3 freshman’s ground-rule double scored Weston Bryan with the go-ahead run.

“I put a good swing into it and made solid contact,” Bender said. “I didn’t feel it had home run distance, but I was hoping it was over the left fielder’s head. It bounced once and then hopped the fence.”

Bryan opened the inning with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Dane Erbst.

Like Bender, Bryan and Erbst played high school ball at Casa Grande.

“The Cabrillo pitcher tried to sneak a breaking ball past him,” coach Damon Neidlinger said of Bender’s game-winning hit. “It wound up short-hopping the fence in left field.”

Cabrillo got the first run of the game in the second, only to have Santa Rosa come back with a run in the bottom half of the inning.

Erbst reached on a single and came home on a double by Spencer Neve (Petaluma High).

Bender came on to relieve starter Brett Obranovich in the fifth and allowed only two hits. He struck out five.

“I had it set up in my mind that I was going to bring in Bender in the middle innings,” Neidlinger said. “We won easy on Saturday (13-0) and I didn’t have to use him, so he was fully rested.”

Bender gave Neidlinger a few anxious minutes in the ninth as he hit one batter and walked another.

Then, with one out, he got a strikeout and a pop fly to the first baseman to start the celebration.

“After the second runner reached, I took a walk behind the mound and told myself this was just another game,” Bender said. “Then I settled down and started throwing strikes again.”

“I wasn’t going to take him out of the game while we still had the lead,” Neidlinger said. “It was his game to lose.”

Bender lowered his ERA to 0.56.

Santa Rosa collected 11 hits with Bender, Erbst and Neve leading the attack with two each.

The Bear Cubs will take a 29-12 record to the sectional while Cabrillo’s wound up 24-18.

Delta, next weekend’s opponent, captured the Big 8 Conference title and Santa Rosa was the runner-up.

The schools played a three-game series in mid-March with Delta winning twice.

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