Dominant Division I Championship Victory Earns Spartans Fourth Straight North Coast Section Crown And State Team Of The Year Honors •
Even for a program accustomed to stockpiling achievements, the De La Salle baseball team knows winning four straight North Coast Section championships doesn’t happen often. Or easily.
When the Spartans achieved that rare four-peat feat by beating Heritage-Brentwood 10-1 on May 25, there was an exuberant celebration. De La Salle is just the fourth school to win four consecutive NCS championships in the sport, and the first to do so in Division I.
“It’s really hard to make it in the playoffs; It’s a one-game deal and you never know what can happen,” said Spartans ace pitcher Kyle Harrison, who earned the win at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill to finish 10-0 with a 1.26 ERA. “Four straight wins in the playoffs is already very hard to do, and to do it four years in a row is just incredible.”
“Winning four crowns in a row is just super hard,” De La Salle baseball coach David Jeans said elatedly. “Because in the playoffs, the teams are really good. We try to take it one at a time.”
Harrison struck out 10 and allowed just two hits and one run in 5.1 innings. The junior also singled in the go-ahead run to fuel a five-run third inning, and doubled in two more in the fourth as the No. 1 seed Spartans (29-1) seized control. It was a systematic effort in fending off the sixth-seeded Patriots (21-7), who knocked off the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds to reach the title game.
“One thing about this team is they are not an emotional team,” Jeans said. “I am a rah-rah guy. I play hard and I was worried about them — ‘Do you truly want to win this thing?’ — and I think what it is, they just have an emotional stability. So in that first inning, we gave up the double, we didn’t panic. Their guy got to third; Kyle did his thing. We got out of the inning. And those hitters just came through. They didn’t chase; they didn’t try to do too much.”
Incredibly, De La Salle also brought its winning streak to 28 games, last tasting defeat in a 3-2 loss to St. Francis-Mountain View on March 2 in the second game of its remarkable season. That streak ranks third in NCS history, according to Cal-Hi Sports records. The Spartans entered the championship game ranked fifth in the nation by Maxpreps, and No. 1 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports. On May 28, the Spartans were named Cal-Hi Sports’ State Team of the Year. It was the program’s first time finishing as the state’s top team.
“I don’t know how it happens in baseball,” Jeans said. “I don’t know (how) we’ve been to the championship nine times in a row. Baseball is a funny game and sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t. It’s hard. Baseball is hard enough. So we just worry about the next pitch.”
Not all of the 2019 victories have been garden-variety blowouts. There were four one-run wins, and three two-run victories — led by a pitching staff that finished with a 0.88 team ERA and which Jeans said may now be a De La Salle baseball record.
“We never gave up,” Harrison said. “We would always work hard in the offseason. Guys don’t know how much work we’ve put in. Guys don’t know the stories about what individual players go through in order to play out here. We just give it our all, every time and every day.”
A great example came from senior third baseman Chris Santiago, who finished his De La Salle baseball career in storybook fashion.
After Heritage took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third on a triple to deep center field by slugger Ryan Jackson, it was Santiago who tied it with a bases-loaded single in the bottom half of that third inning that saw 10 batters come to the plate.
But the topper had be blasting a 3-2 pitch over the left field fence for a two-run home run in the sixth — in his final high school plate appearance.
“I saw a pitch up and put a pretty good swing on it. I wasn’t trying to do too much with it but it happened to go out,” he said. “It’s actually really cool that was my last De La Salle at-bat. When I got back to the dugout, I was telling everybody that was a pretty special way to end it for me. It was a really good feeling, running those bases.”
Santiago, who is headed to Saint Mary’s College, is a standout among a team with a penchant for staying cool in tough circumstances.
“Nobody knows, but he started hitting .200 like the first 10 games. And he didn’t panic,” Jeans said. “I went and talked to him and said, ‘Santi, I believe in you, don’t worry about it.'”
After Santiago told his coach “no worries,” he went on a tear, and finished the season batting .407. with team-highs in RBI (38) and doubles (13).
“Next thing you know he goes straight to Las Vegas and he’s hitting .400,” Jeans said. “He’s the best player on this team. … He’s going to be a very good college baseball player.”
Remarkably, Santiago was one of six De La Salle regulars to hit .370 or better, along with Vince Bianchina (.419), Nick Fusari (.396), Blake Burke (.395), Keoni Coloma (.386) and Jared Amigh (.370). Contributors deep throughout the 33-man roster.
“When you see our 8 and 9 guys getting base hits and two RBI, it’s pretty special,” Santiago said. “Our No. 9 hitter Jordan Wright a couple weeks ago hit a home run. It’s kind of crazy … he is way down in the lineup but still putting together key at-bats for us. We don’t really have any weak spots in our lineup. Everybody is really good.”
Their repeated success comes from not resting on their laurels, Jeans said.
“We really preach that the past has nothing to do with you. Nothing,” Jeans said. “Your year is now. Stay in the moment. Respect the game, respect baseball.
“The seniors, it’s always for the seniors. We always talk about their year going up in the gym … forever. And so 2019 is going up in the gym forever. And so 2020 will have to do the same thing.”