College baseball: SRJC’s season ends 1 game short of state finals

The top-ranked Bear Cubs lost two of three games to Sierra College to come one win short of advancing to the state championship round.|

The top-seeded Santa Rosa Junior College baseball team’s highly successful season came to an unexpected and disappointing end Sunday afternoon with an 11-8 loss to Sierra College in the California Community College Athletic Association’s NorCal playoffs.

The Bear Cubs, playing the series at Cook Sypher Field on the SRJC campus, lost two of three games to No. 5 Sierra to come one win short of advancing to the state championship next weekend in Folsom.

“It is hard to see another team celebrate on your field that is going to the state championship. I will say that Sierra was very respectful (celebrating),” SRJC assistant coach Tom Francois said. “We competed until the very end, but we got beat by a really good team.”

The Bear Cubs (34-12 overall, 7-2 in playoffs) went 3-4 this season head-to-head against Sierra of Rocklin (34-13, 8-1).

Ultimately, the Bear Cubs’ defense and pitching failed them in the must-win game. The defense committed four errors leading to four unearned runs, which were incredibly costly considering SRJC lost by three runs. Sierra had one error that led to one unearned run for the Bear Cubs.

“The team that makes the fewest amount of mistakes usually wins. Sierra capitalized on our mistakes, so you have to give them credit,” Francois said. “The errors were definitely deflators emotionally. It was the wrong time to get those errors in the last couple of innings.”

The five Bear Cubs pitchers surrendered a collective 14 hits, 11 runs (seven earned) and walked eight. The Wolverines scored two unearned runs in the seventh and two more in the ninth.

“The pitching and defense hurt us today. All five of our pitchers did not have good outings. You can’t defend against a walk,” Francois said. “In this game, there are no do-overs.”

The four unearned Sierra runs helped turn a 6-5 SRJC lead after six innings into an 11-6 Sierra advantage going into the ninth.

The Bear Cubs didn’t go down quietly, scoring two runs in the bottom of the ninth to make it 11-8, but it wasn’t enough.

The Bear Cubs’ offense was clutch again Sunday, building on the momentum from Saturday when they won 8-1. Unfortunately for SRJC, eight runs were enough to win Game 2 of the series but it was a different story in Sunday’s finale. The Bear Cubs’ offense struggled in Friday’s 9-4 opening loss.

Things started out positively for SRJC as it led 3-0 after three innings and 4-1 after four. Sierra, however, scored four in the fifth inning and then the Bear Cubs’ errors in the late innings made for a hill too steep to climb at the end for SRJC.

“We got 11 hits, but it was too little, too late,” Francois said.

The Bear Cubs were led at the plate by Bryce Cannon (2-for-4, home run, 2 RBIs, 2 runs) and Gabe Henschel (1-for-2, home run, 2 RBIs, run). Cannon was one of the team’s most consistent hitters throughout the playoffs, racking up timely hits when they were critically needed.

“Bryce is rock solid,” Francois said. “His swing is always consistent.”

Bear Cubs reliever Connor Charpiot took the loss, giving up four runs (two earned) and four hits in three innings of relief from the sixth through eighth innings.

Wolverines reliever Matthew Sigafoos earned the win, pitching five innings and giving up four runs and six hits.

Francois said the last game of the season is always tough, especially with the team’s sophomore players moving on and their Bear Cubs careers over.

“I love these guys so darn much. You get attached to these kids,” Francois said. “(Head coach) Damon (Neidlinger) works his tail off to get people to four-year schools. There is a lot of interest in guys in our program.”

The Bear Cubs were regular season co-champs in the Big 8 Conference along with San Joaquin Delta College of Stockton, and went 6-0 in the Super Regional playoff tournament to get to the NorCal section playoffs, where they earned the No. 1 seed.

The end of one of SRJC’s most successful seasons on the baseball diamond due to uncharacteristic defensive miscues and pitching breakdowns will likely sting.

“Obviously, that wasn’t our best baseball today. It hurts; it is painful,” Francois acknowledged. “But there are some silver linings … Absolutely, this season was successful. We played in nine playoff games when other guys were sitting at home.”

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