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Prep baseball: Gavin Rognlien’s homer leads Cardinal Newman to program’s 1st section title

With two outs in the top of the seventh, his Cardinal Newman baseball team leading 8-2 in the championship game of the North Coast Section Division 3 playoffs, head coach Derek DeBenedetti stepped out of the dugout and addressed his players hanging over the railing.

The Cardinals were on the verge of history, and DeBenedetti wanted them to understand and appreciate the significance of the moment.

“I told them, ‘You guys go celebrate. Get this out and celebrate because you earned it,’” recalled DeBenedetti. “I just told them, ‘Don’t hold back.’”

Moments later, those same players poured onto the field, mobbing their teammates after they put the finishing touches on their 8-2 win over San Marin on Friday to capture their first section title in program history in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Cardinal Newman High School.

While the final score might indicate otherwise, the seventh-seeded Mustangs (18-9-1) made the top-seeded Cardinals (24-5) earn the championship clincher.

Trailing 2-0 and still hitless after three innings, the Cardinals rallied back to tie the game in the fifth before senior Gavin Rognlien gave the hosts the lead for good with a go-ahead two-out, two-run home run. The Santa Clara commit later doubled as the hosts broke the game open in the sixth.

“Man, we put in so much work,” said Rognlien, who went 2 for 4 with three RBIs. “All the offseason, we’re here five days a week, grinding for this moment right here. There was never a doubt at all with this group. Coming in, we knew we were destined for this and were gonna make it happen.”

Rognlien’s bomb, his second of the playoffs and fourth of the year, came on the heels of a game-tying RBI single from Brady Boyd. The Cardinals had been stymied through three innings by San Marin starting pitcher John Holtz but plated their first run on their first hit of the game from Blake Bryson in fourth.

After that, the floodgates opened.

The Cardinals followed their three-run fifth with four more runs in the sixth — one on Rognlien’s double, another on a single from Anane Wilson and two more off the bat of Nate Phelps. Cardinal Newman scored all eight of its runs over the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.

Starting pitcher Jack Larson rebounded nicely from a few tough opening innings to earn the win with eight hits and two runs allowed with a strikeout in five innings. Landen Rota relieved him to start the sixth and finished things off with a strikeout and a hit over the final two innings.

With the win, the Cardinals automatically clinch a spot in next week’s CIF Northern California regional playoffs. It’s the first year the CIF is holding state-level regional playoffs. Cardinal Newman will know its first-round matchup after the seeding meeting on Sunday.

“It’s really been an unbelievable journey,” said senior Blake Bryson, who went 1 for 3 with an RBI and is the only senior of Cardinal Newman’s three that has been at the school all four years. “We go into Boras, we’re hot, take a tough loss to Mitty, then we have a really bad week with Windsor and College Park, and to just absolutely turn it around the way we did and just catch on fire at the right time, it’s stuff you can’t even script.

“I don’t think anyone would have thought that after all of that we’d get to where we are right now.”

Adding to the magic of Cardinal Newman’s section title is the fact that it’s just the second by a Sonoma County team since 2008 when the NCS reconfigured its divisions. From 2001 to 2008, Sonoma Valley, Maria Carrillo and Casa Grande each won section titles in the 3A Redwood Empire division. Since the introduction of the current six-division format in 2009, Credo is the only Sonoma County team has raised a section banner, doing so in Division 6 in 2019.

For DeBenedetti, the section title carries even deeper meaning.

“It means that …. You’re gonna have to excuse me,” said DeBenedetti, a 1994 grad of Cardinal Newman as he paused a few seconds to compose himself as tears welled in his eyes. “It means everything. It’s history. As an alum, this is for all the past players and the future players. This is history. This is the start of something, we want to continue this. But this is for all the players that have ever played at Cardinal Newman.”

He paused again to look at his players celebrating with friends and family on Clyde Smith Field.

“It’s for these guys, too,” he said. “They earned this. They absolutely earned this. This is their gift to the school.”

You can reach Staff Writer Gus Morris at 707-304-9372 or gus.morris@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @JustGusPD.

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