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Prep baseball: Ukiah routs Petaluma to capture program’s 1st section title

The dream season just keeps getting better for the Ukiah High baseball team.

Behind an early offensive barrage, the ninth-seeded Wildcats completed an underdog run for the ages, capturing their first section title in program history with a five-inning, 13-1 win at third-seeded Petaluma on Saturday in the championship game of the North Coast Section Division 2 playoffs.

The win caps an incredible playoff run for the Wildcats (20-9) as they defeated the No. 8, No. 1, No. 4 and No. 3 seeds to win the NCS title in their first section championship game appearance since 2007.

“Did I see this happening? I just knew that we hadn’t seen our best baseball yet,” said an emotional Aaron Ford, head coach of Ukiah. “A nine seed wins it. Pretty legit.”

Of the 13 runs for the Wildcats, 12 of them were scored with two outs and only four of them were earned, as the visitors took advantage of several uncharacteristic lapses from the Trojans (21-9), who were looking to capture their first title section title in baseball in 42 years.

In total, Petaluma committed a season-high seven errors in the contest.

Adding to the Trojans’ frustration was the performance of Ukiah starting pitcher Austin Ford, Aaron Ford’s son. The senior righty was dominant, striking out five with just three hits and an unearned run allowed on 70 pitches in a complete-game outing.

“We worked hard all season for this. This was the goal,” said Austin Ford. “We didn’t expect to come here and lose. We came out, swung it. Just feels good to be the first team to win one.”

Dozens of Ukiah fans made the 77-mile trip south and packed along the fences at Petaluma High School. Alumni, friends, family and everyone in between gave the away game a home game feel.

“This place was lined up. All of Ukiah,” said Aaron Ford. “I’m just honored to be a part of these kids’ experience. I don’t take this lightly. It’s a big thing in a small community.”

The trip was well worth it for the Ukiah faithful.

After advancing to the finals with three one-run wins, Saturday’s championship was much less dramatic.

Tied 1-1 after the first inning, Ukiah scored four runs in the second to leap out to a 5-1 lead. With two outs and the bases loaded, Caleb Ford made it 2-1 with an RBI single and Ethan Rinehart then drew a walk to score another run before Austin Ford scored two with a double.

The Wildcats weren’t even close to done. In the third, they made it 6-1 on an error, 7-1 on a passed ball and then 8-1 on another RBI single from Caleb Ford.

It was more of the same in the fourth. Canyon Loflin brought in a run on a throwing error before Hunter Schnitzius doubled to center field to bring home two more runs and make it 11-1.

The Trojans’ seventh and final error of the game scored the 12th run for Ukiah in the fifth and Jace Pullins followed with an RBI infield single to make it 13-1.

Schnitzius and Caleb Ford each went 3 for 4 with two RBIs to lead the offensive barrage. Austin Ford added a 2-for-4 day with two RBIs while Rinehart, Loflin and Pullins each had solo RBIs.

“Austin dealt, we hit the ball, played some defense, Canyon Loflin did a great job behind the dish,” said Aaron Ford. “Just really proud of everybody.”

In the aftermath of the awards presentation, as Ukiah fans celebrated with their team, reality still hadn’t quite set in for the coach even as held both the section plaque and banner in his hands.

“No, I’m still in the fifth thinking I got six more outs to go and I’m trying to figure out my rotation,” Ford said. “That’s where I’m at. It hasn’t sunk in. It probably won’t sink in for a while, and by then I’ll probably have a whole new group of dudes.”

For Ford, a Ukiah native and graduate of the school, the section title carries some added significance. He’s been involved with Ukiah athletics for decades and was there in 2007 when they came up just short in the section title game against Casa Grande.

“I’m just very appreciative of the love and support that we get from everyone,” he said. “I’m glad that they got to come down and I’m glad that our kids performed — that was the best baseball they played all year.”

The Wildcats will look to continue their magical postseason run in the inaugural CIF Northern California regional playoffs next week. They’ll find out their first-round matchup at the seeding meeting on Sunday.

“I think we can keep it rolling,” Schnitizius said. “I mean, we don’t know who we play yet, but I don’t think it’s gonna matter.”

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

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