WATSONVILLE—The St. Francis High baseball team is in the middle of making a run to the Central Coast Section playoffs and possibly beyond.
But the Sharks hit a minor snag along the way after a 6-4 loss to Soledad High in Pacific C oast Athletic League Mission Division play Wednesday afternoon.
Eric Segura, an Oregon State-bound right-handed junior pitcher, gave up 10 hits and recorded seven strikeouts for the Aztecs, who got some redemption after St. Francis beat them, 8-6, on Monday.
“The guy on the mound is pretty good,” St. Francis coach Ken Nakagawa said about Segura. “He’s going to a Pac-12 school for a reason.”
Starting senior pitcher Kai Price took the loss for Sharks who dropped to 8-3 in league play.
Nakagawa thought his ace pitcher, who finished with 10 strikeouts, did an outstanding job keeping pace with a NCAA Division I prospect.
“I thought between the two of them, if somebody scored two runs it should hold up,” Nakagawa said. “This 6-4 score is kind of surprising with those two guys on the mound.”
Despite the loss, the Sharks are still in the driver’s seat and well in the mix for a Mission Division title.
Nakagawa said they’ll be fine as long as the Sharks can win out and take care of business. They were back on the diamond with a non-league contest against Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League power Aptos High on Thursday.
“Like I told them, they got 10 minutes to sulk, to pout or whatever they gotta do, however you want to look at it,” he said. “Our destiny is still in our own hands. We’re still sitting at the top of the league with Alisal.”
The Aztecs improved to 10-4 and are also alive for a league championship, but they’ll need some outside help, including more losses from St. Francis and Alisal (12-3-1, 8-2).
“This win now gives us a chance to be league champs. We needed this,” Segura said. “Now we just gotta go out and play Alisal, hopefully we sweep those two.”
Segura said Monday’s game was similarly competitive to Wednesday afternoon’s battle.
“The pitching aspect for us was different but we were still putting bats on the balls throughout both games,” he said. “They did a great job of playing as a team and that was a team win.”
Sharks’ Kai Price said there was just a lot more energy going into the first meeting against Soledad.
Plus, they weren’t facing one of the best pitchers in the Central Coast Section who can locate just about every throw, and has a changeup pitch that looks like a fastball but dies as it crosses home plate.
“I feel like a lot of people were on their toes about the whole thing,” Price said. “But I feel like we put up some pretty good swings on him.”
Soledad struck first after they took a 2-0 lead in the second inning and added one more run in the following frame, giving Segura a three-run lead to start the game.
JR Ibarra got things started in the fourth for the Sharks, getting on base with a double.
Ibarra scored on a base hit RBI single by Price. Segura then threw a wild pitch that allowed Noel Aquino and Price to move to second and third base, respectively.
Shortly after, Nash Horton drove in Aquino with a base hit RBI that cut the deficit to 3-2 with one out.
The Aztecs committed their third error of the inning when catcher Noah Fregoso overthrew the ball past second base. The costly mistake allowed Price to reach home plate, tying the score at 3-all.
“It wasn’t too bad, I was still determined and I wasn’t going to slack,” Segura said. “They were just putting bats on the ball, too.”
Jeremie Banuelos hit a lead-off double for Soledad, applying the pressure on Price early in the fifth inning. A pair of strikeouts and Banuelos’ failed attempt to steal third base put a halt to that threat.
Miles Guardino came in to relieve Price to start the sixth inning.
The Aztecs took advantage of the mid-game substitution starting with a base hit by Jorge Olivarria, who then stole second to inch himself closer for the go-ahead run.
Dominic Chavez followed up with an RBI double that drove in Olivarria, giving Soledad back the lead at 4-3.
Soledad caught a huge break when Segura hit a pop fly that was dropped by Aquino and Chavez came around to score.
Banuelos then ripped one to left field for an RBI single, bringing in Segura and extending the lead to 6-3.
“When you make mistakes against quality teams they typically take advantage of it and that’s what happened,” Nakagawa said. “[Soledad’s] a quality baseball team.”
Aquino and Seth Vazquez got on base for the Sharks to begin the bottom half of the sixth. Horton’s base hit single advanced the runners to load the bases and Segura was in trouble.
But the phenom pitcher got out of the jam, yet again. St. Francis scored one more run in the seventh but it wasn’t enough to overcome a late rally by Soledad.
“They just don’t give up. They’re a great squad,” Segura said. “They’re just great ball players that put bat on the ball and they’re always hustling, 100%.”
The Sharks (15-5, 8-3) will have a two-game series against North Monterey County starting with a home game on Monday at 4pm.