MONTEREY—It was all business on Tuesday evening for Monte Vista Christian pitcher Jacob Woods, who was one game away from making a return to the Central Coast Section title game.
The senior right-hander was tuned in on the mound, as well as in the batter’s box, to help the top seeded Mustangs to a 4-3 win over No. 5 Stevenson in the Division VI semifinals at Sollecito Ballpark.
“[I was] just trying to stay in the moment, stay in the zone and just give my team the best chance to win,” he said. “I just wanted to give them everything I have because I’m a senior. It’s the last time I’ll be playing as a high schooler.”
Woods’ brilliant performance was cut short, however, after he was forced to exit the game due to the 110-pitch limit allowed by the CCS.
Still, he managed to rack up eight strikeouts in six and 2/3 innings of work.
“Obviously I wanted to finish that game but I know those rules are implemented to protect us,” Woods said. “But it was cool to come out and get a standing ovation.”
With the win, the Mustangs advanced to Thursday’s D-VI championship game against No. 2 Gunn High (17-10, 14-1), which won the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League’s El Camino division.
MVC coach Johnny Ramirez said that Woods’ performance on the mound was the best he’d seen all season from his ace pitcher.
“He could’ve battled any ‘A’ [league] team, honestly, with the way he was going today,” Ramirez said.
Woods looked as sharp as a kitchen knife blade in the first two innings, retiring the Pirates’ side in the top of the second and racking up two quick strikeouts.
The Mustangs’ offense was also quick to back up their pitcher. Senior outfielder Diego Mitchell led off the second inning with a single, beating out the throw to first base.
Fellow senior teammate Jojo Keldsen followed up with a two-out, RBI single that brought in Mitchell for an early 1-0 lead.
The Mustangs continued their methodical baserunning starting when junior infielder Luke Hollingsworth drew a walk to start the bottom of the third.
Cannon Silva executed an excellent bunt attempt that went toward the third base line, putting runners on first and second base with no outs.
Woods smacked a line drive to Amani Wilson but the ball slipped right past the first baseman’s glove and into foul territory, allowing Hollingsworth and Silva to extend the lead at 3-0.
“Their pitcher [Kyle McTamaney] was good, he was sitting on the outside corner the whole game,” Woods said. “At that at-bat, I just got up on the plate and I got into a two-strike count. I just tried to put it in play, make their defense beat us.”
MVC’s biggest blunder on defense came in the top of the fifth.
Pirates infielder Trent Toole hit a soft liner to Keldsen who was late to tag second base for the force out, allowing Steven to cut the deficit at 3-2.
But the Mustangs responded in a flash after Mark Spohn scored on a sacrifice fly, giving them back a two-run cushion at 4-2.
MVC made its pitching change in the sixth when junior right-hander Dylan Hawkins came in to relieve Woods.
But it didn’t come without a dramatic finish because after all, it is the playoffs.
Hawkins’ shaky start began with a wild pitch, followed by an errant throw from Keldsen to Hollingsworth that allowed Stevenson to cut the deficit at 4-3.
Senior infielder Jayden Franz, who was the go-ahead run at the plate with a full count and two outs, drew a walk on a controversial pitch that was called a ball by the home plate umpire.
Junior outfielder Rider McCormick was the final lifeline for Stevenson, but Hawkins got him to hit a pop fly for the final out.
“Hats off to Stevenson, they are a scrapy bunch of dudes,” said Ramirez, who was emotional after the game.
Ramirez expected a dogfight between the Mustangs and Pirates (16-7, 11-1), who won the Pacific Coast Athletic League’s Cypress division.
MVC’s first-year head coach credited Stevenson senior pitcher Kyle McTamaney for his performance on the mound.
“Their pitcher, outstanding in the first few innings. He had us handcuffed,” Ramirez said. “But these guys [MVC] didn’t waver from it, they kept battling, which I liked.”
Ramirez said they got smacked in the mouth several times and they rolled with the punches, as both teams went toe-to-toe like a heavyweight boxing fight.
“We were on the ropes, they’d get on the ropes and that last inning they had us,” he said. “It was just a matter of what’s going to happen, what kind of pitch are we going to end it on?”
The Mustangs will play the Titans at Excite Ballpark in San Jose on Thursday at 4pm.
“It’s super cool. It’s what you play for all year, trying to get to a CCS championship,” said Woods, who was a freshman the last time MVC played in a title game. “Having that opportunity to play on Thursday, we’ll leave it all out there.”