The Santa Rosa Junior College baseball team didn’t lose without a fight, forcing a decisive seventh game in the CCCAA championship tournament but running out of heroics in an effort to win a second consecutive state title.
It ended for the Bear Cubs in a 10-6 loss Monday in Fresno to Grossmont College of El Cajon.
Bear Cubs coach Damon Neidlinger said his athletes showed no signs of giving up even as they played their fifth game in three days. For instance, SRJC catcher Trevor Mallett caught both games on Sunday and Monday and pitcher Jared Noonan threw 40 pitches on Saturday and backed it up with a 30-pitch effort in the Bear Cubs’ comeback win Sunday night.
“When you get to this point, when they get this far and they believe in what they’re doing, they weren’t going to give up,” said Neidlinger.
“To have those guys want to do that, it’s something pretty special. There’s not lot of consideration of their own well-being.”
The combination of heat, travel and tough competition ultimately proved too much. The Bear Cubs (38-11) couldn’t complete another comeback to claim the crown again, after fighting off elimination on Sunday and earlier Monday. SRJC originally lost to Grossmont on Sunday, 3-0, to drop to the losers’ bracket, but rallied to beat El Camino in the losers’ bracket Sunday evening to set up Monday’s games. SRJC needed to defeat Grossmont twice in one day to win the state title.
The Griffins (38-8-1) jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the championship game thanks to a two-run home run by Noah Strohl off SRJC pitcher Shamus Lyons in the third inning. The Bear Cubs responded with a run in the bottom half of the frame thanks to Ryder Kuhn’s RBI single, scoring Josh Lenney.
Grossmont padded its lead in the fourth with two RBI singles, but SRJC responded in the bottom of the fourth with a run of its own to keep the deficit at two runs. The inning appeared to be promising after Blake Berry drew a bases-loaded walk, at which point Jeff Bart scored and Grossmont pitcher Dylan Gargas was pulled for Jeremiah Barr. Barr got Lenney to strike out for the second out of the inning and Mallett to ground into a force out to escape the jam.
The Griffins tacked on two more runs in the top of the seventh before the Bear Cubs responded with three of their own in the bottom half. The Bear Cubs loaded the bases with three consecutive singles. Bart then reached on an error, scoring Kuhns and leaving the bases loaded. Ben Sanderson then scored on a Cole Brodnansky grounder, and Matt Kimura scored on a Daniel Teasley fly out to keep Grossmont close at 6-5. Berry then drew a two-out walk before Lenney struck out to end the inning.
That’s as close as SRJC got, as the Griffins plated four runs in the top of the eighth to pull away.
The Bear Cubs forced a Game 7 with a gritty 5-4 victory in Game 6 early Monday. Grossmont took an early 2-0 lead before SRJC scored one run each in the third and fourth to tie the game at 2-2 after four. Grossmont recaptured the lead in the fifth, but the Bear Cubs scored twice in the fifth before Grossmont tied it again in the top of the sixth.