WATSONVILLE—There was a buzz going around the locker room shortly after the St. Francis High baseball team found out where it was placed in the Central Coast Section playoffs.
That feeling of excitement is still lingering after the No. 4 seeded Sharks defeated No. 5 Sequoia High, 11-9, in the Division IV quarterfinals on May 21.
St. Francis coach Ken Nakagawa said the win was important for both the players and the program, which won the Pacific Coast Athletic League’s Mission division this season with a 13-3 record in league play.
“We’re one step closer to our goal,” he said.
That goal is take the program back to its third appearance in the CCS championship, and the first trip back since the Sharks loss to The King’s Academy in the D-III title game in 2018.
St. Francis (21-6) is one game away from gettin there but standing in the way is Mission division foe No. 8 Soledad (21-7). Both teams will square off in Wednesday’s semifinals at Washington Park in Santa Clara at 4pm.
The Aztecs stunned No. 1 Santa Teresa, 4-1, in the quarterfinals May 21.
“Let’s get it on,” Nakagawa said.
Nakagawa said he likes the fact that they’re familiar with Soledad’s style of play. Both teams split the Mission division season series at one game apiece.
The Aztecs could go with Oregon State commit Eric Segura, a junior ace pitcher who had a stellar performance on the mound to beat top-seeded Santa Teresa in last week’s quarterfinals.
Sophomore pitcher Junior Ibarra went five innings for the win and Micah Cervantes earned the save for the Sharks in Saturday’s quarterfinals victory over the Ravens (9-18-1).
“I saw that he was the No. 2 hitter and I wanted the ball, I wanted to strike him out,” Cervantes said. “I had to focus outside and came back with a curve ball. A lot of play calling.”
Cervantes also had a big play on defense in the fifth. He stopped a hard bouncer that was heading for right field, preventing the Ravens from scoring.
On offense, he had a clutch base hit that drove in two of the Sharks’ seven runs scored in the bottom half of the fifth frame. Cervantes finished with two RBIs and one run scored.
“I came in hot, I had to get ready,” Cervantes said. “I knew my dogs were right behind me. I knew they were going to have the same energy as me, so I tried to top it.”
Nakagawa said that Cervantes is a high energy-type of guy whose batteries never seem to run out.
“That’s what you want, he’s a high-motor guy and we love that about Micah,” Nakagawa said. “Kind of energizes our whole squad as you saw when he made that [defensive] play, our whole dugout erupted.”
Nakagawa added that this type of energy can pick a teammate up, which is what they’ve been doing all year long.
“Our success is that they like each other so much, they get along and they’re not afraid to pick each other up,” he said.
Ibarra had two hits and scored three runs, while senior teammate Noel Aquino had a hit, an RBI and scored two runs.
Senior infielder Kai Price had a base hit, three RBIs and scored two runs for the Sharks. Fellow teammate Seth Vazquez had two hits, two RBIs and a run scored, and Nash Horton had two RBIs.
St. Francis had an 11-2 advantage going into the seventh. But the Ravens slowly chipped away at the lead after they drove in seven runs, giving the Sharks a scare in the end.
“I felt like there was miscommunication, a lot,” Cervantes said. “But we always have our heads up and we came out victorious, that’s all we can ask for.”
Nakagawa said his major concern was they couldn’t let Sequoia back in the ball game, especially allowing its No. 2 hitter in the lineup to change the game, and the scoreboard.
“Micah made a good pitch to get him out,” Nakagawa said. “We had heard he’ll chase the breaking ball, we knew that going into the game and that he likes being the aggressive hitter.”
The longtime Sharks coach said another major game changer was when Miles Guardino tried to make a play at first base, but the Ravens’ runner was called safe.
“It gave them a little momentum and they kind of rolled with it,” Nakagawa said.
Price is expected to start on the mound for St. Francis on Wednesday. He’s hoping to get some redemption after a loss to Soledad on April 27.
“We might surprise them and throw a freshman, I don’t know yet,” Nakagawa said. “We’ll talk about it, the coaching staff, here tonight and figure this out. I look forward to it.”
Cervantes said it doesn’t matter who they play at this point in the season just as long as they go out and handle business as usual.
“I’m glad that it’s Soledad, we have a great battle against them and they’re a really great ball club,” he said. “I feel like it’s going to be a great game against them.”
CCS baseball playoffs
D-IV: No. 4 St. Francis vs. No. 8 Soledad, 4pm, Washington Park, Santa Clara
D-VI: No. 1 Monte Vista Christian vs. No. 2 Gunn, 4pm, Excite Ballpark, San Jose