The St. Francis High Sharks were one of the last teams to qualify for the Central Coast Section playoffs, squeezing out a .500 league record on the final day of the regular season.
They’re making the most of their opportunity.
The No. 7-seeded Sharks edged the No. 2-seeded Soquel High Knights, 4-3, in nine innings on Saturday at Harbor High to advance to the CCS Division II semifinals at Municipal Stadium in San Jose.
The Sharks (14-13) will play No. 11 Menlo, a 2-1 winner over Half Moon Bay High and six-time CCS champ. First pitch is set for today at 7 p.m.
“They know what it takes,” said St. Francis High head coach Kenny Nakagawa. “They knew it was going to be a grind but they fought through it and now we have a chance.”
Junior centerfielder Brandon Moakler drove in the game-winning run in the top of the ninth inning, bringing home senior left fielder Richie Martinez III, who got on base with a leadoff double. Senior Ruben Ibarra shut the door in the bottom of the frame, striking out the last two batters to record the win after tossing two perfect innings in relief of starter Andrew Ciandro.
Ibarra, who will play baseball for San Jose State next season, also went 2-for-5 at the plate and hit a two-run homer in the fifth to give St. Francis a 3-2 lead.
“He had a great day,” Nakagawa said of Ibarra. “It’s nice when your seniors step up. He and [Ciandro] really played great for us and then you had Richie with the big hit to get us going. The guys really wanted it today.”
St. Francis fell behind 2-0 in the first inning on a pair of errors but Mario Velasquez brought home Ciandro in the second to cut the deficit in half.
Velasquez was 3-for-4 with an RBI and a scored run.
Ciandro, who will play baseball for Cal State Bakersfield next season, pitched the first seven innings and allowed only five hits and one earned run. He walked three and struck out two.
The Sharks got off to a slow start this season while waiting for Ibarra and junior pitcher Chase Watkins to return from the school’s basketball team, which played deep into March and advanced to the California Interscholastic Federation Division V State Championship game. But St. Francis finished the regular season by winning four of its last five, including three straight.
Saturday’s triumph was the Sharks’ fifth in a row.
“We feel great right now,” Nakagawa said. “We feel like we’re just really getting going.”