By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
PETALUMA — There was high drama at Saturday’s NCS Division 2 baseball quarterfinal at Casa Grande. Unfortunately for the fourth-seeded Gauchos, they were on the short end of a fantastic game — losing 3-2 in 11 innings to No. 12 Pinole Valley to end their season in gut-wrenching fashion.
Trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the 11th inning with the bases loaded, two outs and a full count, Casa Grande’s Spencer Torkelson smashed a line drive off Pinole Valley reliever Sammy Esparza to right-center field that appeared to be the game winner. However, Spartans center fielder Ryan Rodrigues got a great jump and raced to his right to grab the liner on the run, igniting a euphoric celebration by the Spartans (17-11-1) while the Gauchos (21-7) watched dejectedly.
“That was a great at-bat by Torkelson. Another five feet over and we win the game,” Casa Grande coach Paul Maytorena said. “Hats off to Pinole; they persevered for the win.”
“We had him (Torkelson) shaded toward right-center,” Pinole Valley coach Curtis Sandeford said. “We battled all day — that would have been a tough game to lose.”
As it turned out, the Gauchos were the ones dealing with the loss and lamenting opportunities lost. Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the first inning, the Gauchos were given a gift of two unearned runs on an errant throw by the Spartans’ third baseman with two runners on, giving Gauchos starter Eric Parnow a 2-1 lead.
Casa Grande loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the second inning against Pinole Valley starter Jeffrey Kersten and came away with no runs. The key play was a ball hit back to Kersten that led to a fielder’s choice at home and a runner’s interference on the batter on the throw to first by catcher Logan Elmore for a double play. Kirsten then got a fly-out to end the threat.
“You have to get a run in that situation,” Maytorena said. “We had opportunities to win, we just didn’t capitalize.”
No more runs were scored until the top of the seventh inning, when Pinole Valley’s Jaylen Stewart singled and went to third on a two-base error on a poor pick-off attempt by the Gauchos’ reliever. Stewart scored on a sacrifice fly by Kyle Smith for a 2-2 tie.
Kersten stymied the Casa Grande offense and pitched a remarkable 8⅓ innings (zero earned runs, seven hits, seven strikeouts, one walk).
Maytorena said of Kersten: “We didn’t challenge him at all and he had us off balance. He wasn’t overpowering but he did a good job with his control.”
Parnow pitched four innings (one earned run, one hit, six strikeouts, three walks) before being lifted for reliever Justin Bruihl, who also pitched four innings (zero earned runs, two hits, three strikeouts, one walk).
In the 10th inning, the Spartans appeared to take a 3-2 lead after a runner on third scored following a throw from Casa Grande catcher Casey Longaker on a wild-pitch strikeout that glanced off the Gaucho first baseman’s glove.
After a conference among the umps, another runner’s interference was called on the batter and the run was nullified to the Spartans’ dismay.
“That was a tough call on them,” Maytorena said. “Pinole overcame it and grinded out the win.”
Pinole Valley registered the game winner in the 11th inning on a single by Smith that scored Rodrigues from second after a strong throw from Parnow in center field glanced off Longaker’s glove in a bang-bang play at the plate.
Dent got the win, Esparaza the save and Torkelson the tough-luck loss.
“We are moving on,” Sandeford said. “When you beat Casa Grande you beat somebody, because they have a really good program.”