By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Twenty Redwood Empire teams made the North Coast Section baseball playoffs this year, and after several rounds of frenetic action, 19 have been eliminated. Only one local school remains standing, and it isn’t one of the five league champions who entered the postseason, or one of the teams with gaudy regular-season records (like formerly undefeated Clear Lake).
The last man standing is Tomales, which finished in the middle of the NCL II with a 6-6 record and was 10-8 as the NCS Division 6 playoffs began.
The lack of crushing expectations is one reason Braves coach Bill Tucker isn’t sweating Saturday’s D6 championship game at St. Bernard’s Catholic in Eureka, but there are others. Tucker is retiring after 20 years of coaching baseball at Tomales; this will be his final game. Oh, and he’s leaving for a vacation in Hawaii on Monday.
“We went into the RVC (semifinal playoff) game, and you know as a coach how you’re anxious, you’re tight getting ready to play?” Tucker said. “I just thought, it’s my last year. I’m going to Hawaii. So I was going into it like, hey, let’s have some fun. The kids sense that, I think.”
Certainly, the Braves have kept their cool through some tough games, and some weird situations, in the postseason. Locked in a pitchers’ duel against Hanna Boys School in Round 1, Tomales won 1-0 on a passed ball in the fifth inning. Playing at Rincon Valley Christian in the semis, the Braves avenged a pair of NCL II losses to the Eagles, but it wasn’t easy. Tomales scored three runs in the top of the seventh to go up 8-4, only to see RVC fight back for three runs in the bottom of the inning; the game ended with the bases loaded.
“There’s those times when it’s like back and forth and you start to get a little sketched out, and the jitters start to get up,” said junior catcher Ty Evenich, who went 3 for 3 with two doubles and a triple against Rincon Valley. “Personally I like that feeling because it’s like, all right, this will be a good game. I’m personally not a fan of big blow outs. And then the feeling after the game’s over and you realize you won, it makes it that much better.”
In some ways, this resilient squad reminds Tucker of the team that brought home Tomales’ first and only section baseball championship two years ago. Tucker has had some powerful teams in his two decades of coaching at the Marin coast. His 2007 Braves put together a 15-0 record in the NCL II North and went 22-4 overall; his 2009 team was 12-0 in the NCL II South and 18-5-1 overall. But the group of boys who brought home the banner in 2013 were 6-4 in league play.
It just goes to show, in small-school baseball you have to get hot at the right time. And as Tucker admits, it depends who your competition is. St. Vincent and Sonoma Academy dominated the NCL II this year, but both play in Division 5 in the postseason.
Though Tomales’ championship came just two years ago, there isn’t a ton of carry-over. Several of this year’s seniors were JV call-ups on that 2013 team, but only a couple got regular playing time.
Still, it’s senior leadership that makes this year’s Braves strong, according to Evenich. Eight of the 16 players on the roster are seniors, including third baseman Billy Wright, outfielder Ryan Giammona and pitcher Ivan Gomez, who tossed the gem against Hanna and will take the mound against St. Bernard’s in the title game.
“Our seniors, everyone on this team are really good leaders,” Evenich said. “We’re all close-knit, we work well together. I knew we had a lot of potential, but it took us a while to find it. At the beginning of the season, we weren’t really hitting well. At the end of the season, the hitting started to go up. It was rough in the beginning of the season. Now we’re starting to play like a family.”
And as the father of this family, Tucker had some advice for his boys: Bring your pillows. The Tomales High seniors graduated Friday. After that, the school hosted a sober event for its seniors known as Project Graduation. It’s supposed to last into the morning, but the senior baseball players got permission to leave a little early for the long drive to Eureka. The bus was scheduled to leave 8 a.m. Saturday morning, and Tucker was encouraging the kids to sack out.
You need talent to win an NCS baseball championship, and a little luck, too. But you also need some sleep.