Lions overcome mistakes in first semifinals matchup
Veteran baseball coach Brad Gunter Jr., leader of the top-seeded Division VII Valley Christian baseball team, knew his team might have a hangover following their emotional victory against Big Valley Christian in the opening round.
Their ace pitcher, Corey Cater, was fresh off a no-hitter as the Lions eliminated last year’s runner-ups with a 3-0 victory Wednesday night.
But VCA was still two wins away from another section championship berth and needed to get back to business Saturday against Turlock Christian if they hoped to keep their postseason alive.
“This is always a concern on Saturday because we had a big win on Wednesday, had two days off to emotionally recover and you show up at 10:30 in the morning and expect to play,” Gunter explained. “The problem is that guys get caught up when you’re the number one seed. It takes them an inning or two when they get smacked in the mouth to wake up. But we found a way to recover.”
After committing seven errors in the first four innings of this weekend’s semifinals contest against Turlock Christian, VCA found its rhythm and lit up the scoreboard for six runs in the bottom of the fifth inning en route to a 7-6 victory at McAuliffe Memorial Field.
“We had five errors in the first two innings and three mental mistakes, so that was eight errors in our book,” Gunter continued. “They didn’t have a hit and we were behind 2-0. So I’m extremely proud the guys were able to overcome.”
VCA slowly crawled out of its tough start thanks to an RBI from their pitcher, Brooks McKeighen. The senior slugger drove a ball to left-center and brought home Corey Cater, which ignited the team’s middle-innings run.
“He was throwing a lot of curve balls early in the game, but came back with a fastball and I saw it, made a quick adjustment and made good contact with the ball,” McKeighen explained. “I was happy to get that first run on the board.”
The Lions took the lead in the fifth as they tallied six of their seven runs to gain a 7-2 lead thanks to key hits from Caleb Watson (game-tying double), Corey Cater (run-scoring single), Collin Andrews (RBI double) & David Alway (two run single).
On the mound, McKeighen allowed just one hit and struck out 11 batters before Gunter called in a reliever in the seventh inning due to the 110-pitch limit.
“I was able to get ahead with my fastball, and later in the game, my curveball really worked well,” McKeighen explained. “I felt like I threw a lot of their hitters off-balance by working my pitches, which was good to see.”
McKeighen had a runner on when he was replaced by Donovan Gonzalez, who couldn’t shut down Turlock Christian immediately, as they scored four runs to make it just a one-score game, but got the final strikeout to seal the win.
The two ball clubs will meet again Tuesday at 4 p.m. as the semifinals continue. A win would move the Lions into the section finals, while a loss would create a deciding game three, which would take place at 7 p.m.
Lions softball drops game, still advances
While the baseball team was on the field in Sacramento, the VCA softball team ‘danced their way’ to the the D7 playoffs final-three despite losing to top-seeded power Ripon Christian, 15-1.
The senior-less Lions (15-6-1) received advancement via a forfeit win over Big Valley Christian after they withdrew from the competition to allow their girls to attend Senior Prom.
VCA will await the loser of Tuesday's 5 p.m. winner's bracket game between Ripon Christian and Stone Ridge Christian.
Whether the Lions win or lose Tuesday, they have already achieved their highest finish ever in the D7 playoffs.
The championship game is scheduled Wednesday afternoon.