SportStars Magazine

Dogs’ Day

Vacaville High Bulldogs baseball

Gritty And Undaunted, Vacaville Flooded The Delta En Route To Winning Its First Section Title •

It’s a difficult road to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I baseball title, especially when navigating from Solano County. The Bulldogs of Vacaville High know this all too well. 

The Div. I bracket is traditionally Delta League territory. Since the turn of the century, it owns 14 of 18 Div. I banners. Four of the top six seeds in the 2018 bracket belonged to Delta League teams. 

Vacaville entered the tournament as the No. 7 seed. It closed it with the program’s first SJS crown.

“When you are in the same division as Jesuit, Franklin, Elk Grove, and Davis, you know it will not be easy,” said Vacaville coach Stu Clary, whose Bulldogs stunned Sacramento and Elk Grove locals with its title run that ended with a two-game sweep of Davis on Memorial Day. “I have great respect for those programs, and those coaches are the gold standard that I have strived for.”

Vacaville rebounded from a 3-2 semifinals defeat to Davis to win four consecutive elimination games against Delta League heavyweights. That includes the pair of wins over the Blue Devils in the finals. In all, the Bulldogs’ 6-1 playoff record was earned against five different teams from one of Northern California’s strongest leagues.

“I watched a lot of wrestling growing up and Ric Flair always said, ‘If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best,’” Clary added. (Though without The Nature Boy’s “Wooooo!” as an exclamation point).

 

Vacaville baseball wins SJS title.

Cole Elvis tracks an incoming pitch during the fist game of the championship doubleheader. (James K. Leash photos)

Just a year ago, Vacaville earned the No. 1 seed after rolling to a 24-3 record and a Monticello Empire League title, but fell in its playoff opener to No. 8 seed Del Oro-Loomis. It was a gut punch to the Bulldogs, though it may have provided extra motivation for this year’s team. The perceived snub of the No. 7 seed this season added fuel to the fire.

“I think the kids had a bit of a chip on their shoulder after we learned that we were the 7 seed,” Clary said. “We are the smallest school in D-1 and we have a bit of an outsider feeling coming from out here, so the guys took it as an extra motivator.”

The bracket also revealed that the Bulldogs would get only one home game. Their first opponent would be Delta League battle-tested Pleasant Grove-Elk Grove. In a back-and-forth contest, Vacaville came to bat in the bottom of the seventh inning tied 6-6 with the Eagles. A Cole Elvis single and Mike Brown walk gave the Bulldogs a runner in scoring position. That led to Clary inserting speedy sophomore Kenny DeCelle (for his varsity debut) as a pinch runner for Elvis. Sophomore Jared Breedwell then bounced a ball into left field and DeCelle raced to the winning run.

“We have a lot of seniors that led this team all year, and we get a walk-off win with two sophomores on base and a sophomore knocking in the winning run,” Clary said.

Youth and speed earned the victory and a road matchup with three-time defending Div. I-champion Elk Grove. The Bulldogs remained at ease, playing loose and swinging freely to eliminate the Thundering Herd 14-8.

“We have league titles recognized at our field, and you walk in there and they have all of those section championship years on the fence,” Clary said. “But we walked in there and did what we always do. Our kids were running pass patterns in the outfield and were loose and confident.

“When I saw our guys throwing the football around and having fun, I knew we’d be OK. I knew we would just go about our business.”

Vacaville Baseball wins first section title.

Bryce Begell looks up for the call after sliding into second base during Game 1 of the finals.

Clary, who has been with the program for nine years, including four years as the varsity coach, believes in having fun on the baseball field, admitting that he often “leaves the seriousness” to his assistant coaches. But, the fun has translated into lots of wins the past two years.

The coach credits his seniors for the team’s success, including Cole Elvis, T.J. Smith, Noah McCoy, Bryce Begell and Austin Lamb. Elvis, a catcher who will continue playing Cal, led the team with a .426 batting average and 28 RBI despite missing significant time with an ankle injury. 

Smith was primarily a pitcher as a junior, but excelled at the plate in his senior season. He batted .383 with a team-high 36 hits after being shut down on the mound after just seven appearances. 

McCoy, a versatile fielder capable of playing in the infield or outfield, knocked in 25 runs while batting .371. Begell, a University of Arizona signee, fought through a hip flexor injury during the season and sprained ankle in the playoffs. He still managed to finish with 31 hits and a .333 average. Lamb was Vacaville’s No. 1 pitcher, making 10 starts, logging 49 innings, and posting a 2.71 ERA.

“Everything started with our seniors,” Clary said, “but Cole is the heart and soul of the team. He did exactly what we knew he would do.”

Vacaville Baseball wins first section title.

Bulldogs players celebrate following their comeback win over Davis in Game 2 of the finals.

Elvis and the seniors led the team all season, but came up biggest under the postseason spotlight. Elvis, Smith, and McCoy drove in a combined 37 runs between them as the Bulldogs batted .383 as a team in the postseason. Vacaville, which finished the season 26-8, had at least 10 hits in every playoff win and averaged nearly nine runs per game despite the 3-2 loss to Davis.

“We definitely swing it,” Clary said. “We don’t play a lot of small ball. We’ll grip and rip it a lot, but we hit up and down the lineup and have no easy outs from 1 through 9.”

On the final day of the Bulldogs’ historic season, there was plenty of gripping and ripping as they banged out 21 hits and scored 18 runs. Ironically, though, the game-winning heroics came courtesy of a pair of unlikely plays. Trailing 6-4 with just three outs left to work with, Smith belted his first home run since Little League, a two-run bomb that left the yard at Sacramento City College to tie the game at 6-6. After two outs were recorded, junior Hunter Dorraugh collected his third hit of the game with a single to left field. Then, the luck and bounces that had always eluded the Vacaville baseball program, finally went the Bulldogs’ way.

Clary gave Dorraugh the steal sign with George Christison at the plate. Christison mistakenly thought that his coach signaled for him to bunt, so the junior outfielder squared around as Dorraugh broke for second base. The well-placed bunt forced a rushed throw to first base that arrived at the same time as Christison. With ball, runner, and first baseman all converging, the throw ended up rolling in foul territory down the right field line. Dorraugh never slowed and Clary windmilled his runner toward home plate where he’d score the title-winning run.

“We won on a missed sign bunt to get our first section championship,” Clary said. “That’s baseball. Sometimes things just work out and the bounces go your way.”

And when things go your way, the underdog can find the road from Solano County to the Sac-Joaquin Section championship is navigable after all.

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