Pilots’ Season Ends as Comeback Attempt Falls Short

Pilots’ Season Ends as Comeback Attempt Falls Short

The St. Joseph Notre Dame baseball team was eliminated from the North Coast Section (NCS) Division IV tournament in the second round by Del Norte High School of Crescent City. The second seed Pilots were upset by the seventh seed Warriors, 5-4, on Saturday, May 20, on their home field at the College of Alameda.

Junior left-handed pitcher Noah Klube (#16) started on the mound for the Pilots, tossing a scoreless first inning. In contrast, the Warriors’ senior right-hander Ethan Thomas (#25) had a shaky first inning. He walked the first two Pilot hitters, center fielder Cameron Murphy (#12) and third baseman Joshua Vonnegut (#4). After stealing third base, Murphy scored on senior catcher Atticus Gonzalez's (#27) single into left field. Then, Vonnegut scored on a wild pitch before his team left the bases loaded. The Jets missed another opportunity to extend their lead as they stranded two more runners in the bottom of the second inning.

In the third inning, the Warriors’ offense came alive. They scored five runs to surge into the lead. Del Norte’s first run came via a wild pitch with the bases loaded. Then, the visitors took a 3-2 lead on a hard hit ball that snuck under Pilot first baseman Thomas Cooke’s (#23) glove and into right field. Having failed to record an out in the inning, Klube was replaced by fellow left-hander Matteo George (#10). The senior eventually got out of the inning, but not before the Warriors scored two more times.

Now leading, Thomas settled down on the mound, finishing his outing with four straight scoreless innings. In the bottom of the fifth inning, SJND had the bases loaded with one out. Thomas buckled down, striking out two straight hitters to get out of the jam and keep his team up three.

SJND senior Daniel Velichko took over on the mound and pitched a scoreless sixth and seventh inning, keeping the Pilots’ deficit at 5-2.

In the bottom of the sixth, Warriors’ relief pitcher Cole Blackburn (#12) took to the mound. He quickly found himself in trouble as he walked Murphy, who moved to third when the ball got away from the catcher. Gonzalez hit a sacrifice fly, scoring Murphy to make it 5-3, before getting out of the inning.

The Pilots entered the bottom of the seventh needing two runs to tie the game and three to win. Blackburn once again walked the leadoff batter, who quickly advanced to third on an errant pickoff throw. In his second at-bat, Velichko laid down a sacrifice bunt to score the runner from third to cut the deficit to 5-4.

SJND had the tying run on second base with just one out. Left fielder Michael Loller Jr. (#42) struck out for the Pilots’ second out of the inning. Murphy represented the Pilots’ final hope to extend the game. However, the senior flew out to end the game and the Pilots’ season.

Despite the disappointing loss, senior catcher Gonzalez chose to focus on the team’s bond.

“Obviously, I am feeling a lot of disappointment,” said Gonzalez. “Our goal was to win the championship, but we have a good team and a lot of good guys who really care for each other. It was one bad day and a bad loss, but I have nothing but love for these guys. We lost the game, but we are going to be okay.”

For SJND, their season comes to a close with a 20-5-1 overall record and a second-place finish in the Bay Counties-East League at 9-3. The Pilots were unable to make it back to the NCS Div. IV final after last year's heartbreaking defeat. Last year, the Pilots lost to St. Mary's of Albany, 1-0, in the NCS Div. IV final ("https://alamedasun.com/news/pilots-fall-short-championship-pitchers-duel," May 30, 2022).

Both schools had sizable cheering sections as many Del Norte parents traveled almost 500 miles south to attend the game. Each team was coming off impressive first round NCS Div. IV victories as SJND defeated Fremont Christian, 10-0, and Del Norte knocked out Fort Bragg, 4-0. Del Norte will advance to face league rival Arcata High School in the semifinal on May 24 on the road.