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Another heartbreaker for Maria Carrillo in NCS baseball title game

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Maria Carrillo had been playing good baseball for weeks, giving the Pumas strong momentum heading into Wednesday night’s North Coast Section Division 2 championship game.

Unfortunately for them, Benicia was on the upswing as well.

The Pumas just couldn’t come through when they needed to Wednesday, leaving 11 runners on base in seven innings in a 6-2 title-game defeat to the visiting Panthers.

“They hit the ball really well tonight, especially when they had runners in scoring position,” Carrillo coach Sam Bruno said of Benicia. “We didn’t get timely hits when we needed.”

Panthers coach Alex Soto said his team had been hitting lights-out in batting practice the last several days.

“Guys who didn’t normally hit home runs were hitting home runs,” he said. They’d gotten into a comfortable rhythm after a rocky start to the season, he said.

Junior shortstop Jayshaun Wise led the Panthers with a 3-for-4 night, including three runs batted in and a run scored.

He singled and later scored in the fourth inning, when the Panthers scored two and took a 3-2 lead they would never relinquish.

Benicia had six runs on 13 hits off two Carrillo pitchers. Five of the runs were off starter Bryce Veler before he was pulled in the fifth for Connor Charpiot.

Panthers starter Peter Templeton went four strong innings, giving up two runs on four Puma hits.

“He didn’t want to come out, but it was hot out and he went a solid four innings — and they were coming up on the third time through the lineup,” Soto said. “Why not take him out and replace him with one of the best pitchers around?”

That was Nate Freeman, the Panthers’ ace this year. He allowed just one hit in his three innings of relief.

It was an emotional game for both teams, with tears on each side of the diamond as postseason banners and medals were handed out.

Soto, in his first year as head coach, fought back tears, hugging his son, Alejandro, the starting catcher.

Bruno’s team wiped away tears as they congratulated each other for a second consecutive season of advancing as far as possible in the playoffs.

“It’s not easy getting to this point and then falling down, losing,” Bruno said. “But the fact of the matter is, you have to get here, even to lose. We gave our best shot two years in a row.”

Carrillo lost 4-3 to Alameda last year in the championship game, mounting a last-inning comeback to come just one run short.

“We didn’t lose this game; they beat us,” he said Wednesday. “I’m damn proud of these kids. We battled all year long.”

They battled all night Wednesday, but just couldn’t push through.

Carrillo left two runners on in the first inning — and again in the third, fifth and seventh innings.

With Benicia up 1-0, the Pumas scored twice in the third to take their only lead.

With two on and two out, catcher Kody Kent swatted a hard shot up the middle, which a diving Wise could only smother, allowing Charpiot to score from second. Veler bunted to pitcher Templeton, who threw wildly past first, allowing Bryce Cannon to score.

Though the Pumas were able to advance four runners into scoring position in the last three innings, they were left stranded.

Carrillo ends its season 19-10 overall and 9-6 in the North Bay League-Oak Division. Benicia, in its first year in the NCS after moving from the Sac-Joaquin Section last year, finishes 16-11.

After bringing back 10 seniors from last year’s title-game squad, Bruno is looking forward to next year’s team, which will have seven sophomores returning from this year.

“There has been so much growth,” he said, “and they’re coming back.”

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.

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