By JIM McCUE | Senior Contributor
A familiar scene is about to be played out at the ballpark. Perennial baseball powers Elk Grove and St. Mary’s will face off again for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I Championship in a best-of-three series on May 29-30 at Sacramento City College.
Since 2005, the North-South championship series has featured one or both programs every year except for 2008 when Jesuit and Buhach Colony met for the title. St. Mary’s is making its seventh consecutive trip to the Div. I finals, and this year will be the fourth time in nine years that the Thundering Herd has lined up opposite of the Rams.
“We have seen them three or four times this year, so we have some intel on them and we know what they can do,” said Elk Grove head coach Jeff Carlson, whose background on St. Mary’s includes a 1-0 victory in the teams’ lone meeting in 2015. “We know each other pretty well, but you still have to execute and make the right adjustments to win.”
The Thundering Herd (22-10) hold a 2-1 advantage in championship series showdowns, including a 2-0 sweep of the Rams in the 2012 title series. Carlson, the longtime coach at Elk Grove, and four-year starter Nick Madrigal participated in the 2012 matchup, but most of the Herd roster’s championship series experience came as spectators.
In contrast, many of the Rams have participated in the Div. I championship series. Some of the St. Mary’s seniors have played in each of the last three title matchups. Unfortunately, those players have not won a finals series. But second-year Rams coach Rob Selna is hoping the experience could prove beneficial this time around.
Depth is a strong point for both teams with Elk Grove having a distinct edge in pitching depth, The Thundering Herd struggled early in the year as its top two returning starters, senior Chris Martin and junior Austin Del Chiaro, missed much of the season. Senior left-hander Ty Madrigal assumed the role of staff ace and compiled an 8-3 record and 1.72 ERA in 65 innings of work. Madrigal combined with junior Dylan Carlson to throw a no-hitter in a 2-0 victory over Granite Bay that punched Elk Grove’s ticket to the final series.
Martin, also a southpaw, suffered a pair of early losses in April before he was shelved with an arm injury. He entered the season with a varsity record of 11-2 “” including a 7-2 mark and 0.87 ERA in 2014 “” but had not shown his top form in 2015 until tossing a complete game in a 4-2 win over Granite Bay that forced a deciding game in the Division I North finals.
Nick Madrigal will lead the offense from the top spot in the order to set the table for batters that have stepped up in the postseason. Senior third baseman Brooks Day has swung a hot bat and Carlson has been clutch at the plate as well, including a walk-off double in a first-round victory over Vacaville.
“We are still not completely healthy, but we have been playing better baseball of late,” coach Carlson said. “Any time that you are still playing at the end is a good thing.”
The Rams (21-11) counter Elk Grove’s arms with a potent offense that features six batters hitting .300 or better. Cade Peters leads the way with a .378 average and 35 RBI while fellow seniors Evan Fagundes (.327, 5 HR, 39 RBI) and Joey Cortopassi (.330) provide consistency up and down the lineup. Junior outfielder Jarron Silva has stepped up his game this season, collecting a team-best 40 hits and scoring nine runs to go with his .374 batting average.
Fagundes is also capable of silencing opponents’ bats as he was a perfect 5-0 in 44.2 innings pitched. Senior hurler Karsten Lee is the ace of the St. Mary’s staff, posting an 8-1 record and 1.77 ERA in 67.1 innings of action.
Dueling depth will provide championship-caliber action while execution and adjustments will determine who will conclude the season with the greater championship pedigree. And of course bragging rights, until the powers might face off again in the final series. “Nick (Madrigal) is a four-year starter that has won a championship, but we also have a lot of three-year starters and other seniors on this team,” Carlson said. “We really want to send those guys out the right way with a championship.”