SportStars Magazine

Franklin Finds A Way

Franklin-Elk Grove Wildcats Survive A Frenzied Final Week Of Delta League Baseball To Emerge With Their First Title Since 2015 •

 

For the last 19 years, the last remaining team in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section North bracket was from the mighty Delta League.

Elk Grove, Jesuit, Davis and Pleasant Grove have all experienced that sweet north finalist feeling, but Franklin High, which missed its lone opportunity in the 2012 section finals, could be in line for their own entry in the record books when the postseason begins on May 15. The program begins the Division I tournament as the top seed.

With a sweep against Jesuit this week, the Wildcats made the seemingly impossible happen, jumping two spots in the league standings to claim the Delta League title with a 11-3 record.

Elk Grove began the week 10-2 but a loss in eight innings to Pleasant Grove Monday opened up the door for either Franklin or Jesuit to make a push for the league title.

“We needed some things to happen, but it worked out in our favor,” Franklin coach Brian Kilby said. “And to come out, get a win at their place (Jesuit), on senior day, is huge. That’s a credit to our guys. They don’t stop competing, and they have a lot of confidence in themselves.”

That resiliency surfaced when they needed it most.

Grant Stevens was the winning pitcher in Franklin’s first win over Jesuit, and he went 2-for-3 with an RBI in the title-clinching game a day later. (Photos by JAMES K. LEASH)

After Franklin dropped a close game to Davis last Friday, it seemed the red-hot Marauders from Jesuit would have the upper hand in this week’s matchup. After all, they had won 14 of their last 15 and were already playoff-bound.

But even after securing an early lead, the Marauders couldn’t hold on to win Monday on the road.

“We were up four after one, so I don’t know if they started to cruise mentally or not,” Jesuit’s coach Joe Potulny said, pointing to his team. “But we have to acknowledge part of it was (Franklin’s pitcher Grant) Stevens after the second inning was nails with his change-up.”

“As much as you want to blame our lack of execution in the last five (innings), you’re blind if you didn’t notice what Stevens was able to do.”

Stevens, a junior left-hander for Franklin, is committed to play at the next level at the University of Pacific in Stockton. He showcased some of the dominance that earned him that scholarship in the late innings of Monday’s outing.

“He always gives us a chance to win,” Kilby said. “And he was really good today. He gave up the early runs, but settled in and looked really good down the stretch.”

Upperclassman Evan Gibbons added a pair of doubles Monday and pitched a gem Tuesday to earn a win on his senior day.

“I just tried to throw strikes and let my defense do the work,” Gibbons said. “I didn’t necessarily strike out a bunch of guys, but I got a lot of ground balls and fly balls and my defense did the rest.”

Despite starting three underclassmen in the infield, the Wildcats were nearly flawless on Tuesday, fielding every ground ball, turning every double play and finishing the easy outs.

“Those guys stepped up and that was huge,” Kilby added.

Franklin ace Evan Gibbons allowed just one run in a complete game title-clinching victory on May 8.

Franklin broke open the game in the third inning, scoring five times in 10 at-bats. That was the breaking point, but the Wildcats added two late runs before Gibbons tallied the last out and released a hearty shout.

“I’m a competitor and I loved that ending,” Gibbons said. “To win league like that was awesome.”

Despite being in a four-run hole Monday and another early hole Tuesday, Franklin mounted two of their most impressive wins of the year behind impressive pitching performances. And they believe those arms will carry them deep into the playoffs.

“We are very confident and we think we can compete with anyone,” Kilby admitted. “But it’s the old cliche: we’re just taking it one game at a time. It’s the playoffs and anything can happen.”

Their road to the championship begins Tuesday at home.

Meanwhile, Potulny and his Jesuit squad will join them in the banner chase as the No. 4 seed.

“If we would have won, we could have possibly been co-champs and a higher seed in the new playoff format,” Potulny explained. “And that would have opened up a few (more) home games, but that’s a good Franklin squad and you have to give them credit.”

Since the 1980’s, the North and South teams were split amongst the section and played each other before a double-elimination bracket, usually played at Sacramento City College. But for the first time in 40 years, the Sac-Joaquin section switched the playoff format to an open, 16-team bracket.

Although the Delta has been dominant for more than a decade, this type of switch could ignite a run from any other league in the section.

“It’s just one guy’s opinion, but I’ve played in this league and coached in this league and based on the last 20 years, the Delta is he best in baseball,” Potulny stated. “And it’s only getting tougher.”

 

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