Mustangs baseball team enters CIF NorCal DV Regional Championship – Santa Cruz Sentinel
WATSONVILLE — Obviously, the No. 1 seed is just a number for the Monte Vista Christian School baseball team.
Playing loose and motivated to continue their historic playoff run, the Mustangs advanced to the CIF NorCal Division V regional semifinals, posting an 8-3 win over No. 4 Durham on Friday. They did it behind timely strikes, solid throwing and more scoring defense.
“It was an amazing run,” Mustangs first-year coach Johnny Ramirez said. “That’s been our MO, stay loose. And you hear them sing, stay loose, and that’s how we’ve always been. They come before the game in scary tank tops and flip flops. Some coaches would be like, ‘Oh God, you’re not ready to play.’ But that’s the identity of our team. I come myself in a tank top and shorts.
“It was our thing, stay loose and have fun with it; where some teams arrive prepared and ready to go. I just feel like my team has to stay loose. Do you want to come dressed as a clown? Dark. As long as we don’t play like clowns, it’s fine.
The Mustangs, who also held the No. 1 seed in the Central Coast VI playoffs and defeated Palo Alto’s No. 2 Gunn for the school’s premier section title in sports on May 26, moved to 5-0 in the playoffs and won their eighth straight game overall.
“It’s been an incredible season already and to continue winning is like a dream,” Mustangs left fielder Mark Spohn said. “It’s good.”
Their motivation isn’t just to lift the trophy in NorCal’s first playoffs, but to see their gregarious head coach do a “Crip Walk” dance. He promised he would if they won the CCS title and retired, instead saying he was in if they could break NorCal.
On Friday, he had no idea what the dance entailed. He said he plans to scour the internet for instructional videos while looking for his team’s next opponent.
MVC (23-8-1) takes on No. 6 Berean Christian (20-10) of Walnut Creek in Saturday’s championship at 4 p.m.
North Coast Section DV runners-up Eagles reached the final with back-to-back upsets. They beat No. 3 Skyline 14-1 in the quarter-finals on Tuesday and No. 2 Turlock Christian 7-2 in the semi-finals on Thursday.
Ivver Vertulfo pitched for the Eagles in their NorCal opener and Sebastian Gonzalez pitched a full game, four batters in the semis, so there’s a good chance MVC will face Tom Reed (8-2), a right-hander from 6 feet 3 inches. who hit 98 batters in 68 2/3 innings this season and holds a 0.92 ERA.
MVC will likely be the staff of the game, throwing out Dylan Hawkins, Andre Moretti and possibly Jake Woods, who has three more runs this week.
“I think what our team brings the most is like energy,” said Gavin Allen of MVC. ” You can see it. We cannot be beaten in energy. We’re so loud, we pick on each other. We are like a family.
MVC and Durham were originally scheduled to play Thursday, but Ramirez pushed the game back a day since the senior Trojans could attend their graduation.
JoJo Keldsen Jr. kicked off a competitive game for the Mustangs in their latest win. He allowed three runs on seven hits and didn’t walk a batter. He retired the team in the second inning and the last batter in each of the first four innings to finish with six strikeouts.
Keldsen gave up a run in the first inning, when Tyler Messina scored a single and then scored on Owen Allsup at first base.
MVC answered down first. Spohn singled out, stole the second, and scored on Woods’ RBI single. The Mustangs turned around in the next two innings to take a 3-1 lead. Keldsen walked and scored on Spohn’s two-out single in the second, and Jack Brothers reached a fielder’s pick in the third and scored first on Allen’s double to left field.
After a dominant second set, Keldsen struggled the next two sets, but his defense helped him out.
Brothers, a committed receiver at Cal State Monterey Bay, ejected Rico Merlo who was trying to steal second base for the second out of the third inning, and Allen, a 6-6 right fielder, dived to right center to open the third . After turning around, he remained seated and held the ball in the air, much to the delight of Mustangs fans, who roared in approval.
“I just turned my back and jumped and somehow caught it. Super cool,” Allen said of his catch of the year.
Ramirez said he messed up and forgot to move Allen off the line, to the sidelines.
“I literally said, ‘Gavin…’ and the ball hit, and he made this incredible catch. I mean, what can I say about this team playing defense? It was kind of our Achilles coming in. … They’re starting to play great defense. It’s going on with this team and I’m enjoying this run.
The Mustangs opened the scoring in the fifth, when they scored five runs on five hits and a hit batter. Luis Quintero hit a two-run brace to score Diego Mitchell and Danny DeHaro, a pinch runner for Brothers. Allen was hit by a pitch for the second time and scored on a Keldsen single, and Luke Hollingsworth hit a two-run single to lead Quintero and Keldsen.
Gavin Keene hit a two-run home run to left, which also led Owen Allsup after reaching an error, but Keldsen struck out six of the last seven batters he faced to secure the win.
“He pitched for us in a lot of great games,” Spohn said. “And we just feel confident with him on the mound. We go out there and support him as much as we can. And he pitched well today.
Second baseman Cannon Silva, whose bullseye throw led to one of the biggest outs of the CCS title game, had another defensive highlight on an Austin James infielder in the sixth inning. He charged hard, lined it up and lost his balance, through his body to Hollingsworth at first base for the out.
Keldsen, a junior right-hander who entered with a 1.37 ERA, improved to 8-3 with the win and took his season strikeout total to 109 in 78 1/3 innings.
Weston Stumbaugh, struggling with arm issues, walked out after walking the leadoff batter in the second inning and was stricken by the loss of the Trojans, who pitched four pitchers.
“It’s heartbreaking at the end of the day, but just to be on this team was an honor,” said Keene, a junior. “We set our sights on winning the section, but going all the way to the second round of state is really really amazing. I love the seniors with all my heart and I will miss them very much. We have a lot of young kids, young sophomores coming in, and I think we can get back to that point next year and win all of that next year.
VMC 8, Durham 3
Next: CIF Regional Championship NorCal DV, Berean Christian at MVC
When: Saturday, 4 p.m.