With a little veteran leadership, the young Lincoln Fighting Zebras are making noise in Div. III
By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor
Youth is often lost on the youth.
The Lincoln baseball team is finding out that, with a little help from a wise, mature leader, youth can be a dangerous weapon in the postseason. The Fighting Zebras are still below .500 overall, but peaking at the right time to make a serious run at the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship that has eluded the program.
“We struggled earlier this year because I think that we were a tad bit immature,” coach Troy Petersen said of his young roster that features five sophomore starters. “Jake (Sola)’s leadership, along with some other seniors, have helped us stay calm.”
That calmness was key in Lincoln’s 6-4 upset victory over defending champion Yuba City in an elimination game at McAuliffe Memorial Ballpark on May 16. The result vaulted the Zebras into a best-of-three semifinal series with Pioneer Valley League rival Colfax, and sent the five-time section champion Honkers home early. Lincoln won Game 1 against Colfax 12-5 on May 17 and will look to eliminate the Falcons in Game 2 on May 21.
Last year, with eight seniors in the lineup, Lincoln won the first game of the semifinal series with Yuba City before losing a pair of one-run games to end its season. The Zebras turned the tables on the more experienced Honkers despite falling behind 4-1 in the third inning. After sophomore starter Eli Garcia gave up a three-run blast to Yuba City designated hitter Austin Van Poole, Lincoln could have unraveled and succumbed to defeat. Instead, they put the “fight” into Fighting Zebras and battled back.
The main catalyst was Sola. The senior knew that he could not help his team on the mound because he earned a complete-game win in Monday’s narrow 5-4 victory over Rio Americano. So, he contributed in every way that he could both on and off the field. Sola scored Lincoln’s first two runs after a leadoff triple in the second and an intentional pass in the fourth, and kept his young charges up all game long.
“He got mentored and now he is mentoring,” Petersen said of Sola. “Leaders like Jake helping them understand what the game means and keeping them calm throughout the games is huge.”
The four-year varsity player understands his role as a leader and also understands what the young Zebras can do with more games to play.
“We have made the playoffs each year, but I have seen our team kind of let off the gas,” Sola said. “This year, I have taken it upon myself to make sure that no matter where we are that we stay on the gas and put teams away.
“We are a young, scrappy team, so we are going to scrap away and play our game. We are shocking the world and are going to make a run at it.”
Lincoln was the underdog once again against Colfax, having lost two of three games to the Falcons during the regular season. Now, just one win away from advancing to the finals, it would not be a shock to see youth prevail again.
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