St. Helena head coach Darrell Quirici is still looking for ways to get his team to play consistently in the young 2019 season.
The Saints opened their year with a disappointing 7-3 loss at El Molino in which they committed nine errors, but followed that up with an error-free 8-5 win over Piedmont last Saturday.
It looked like the Saints were taking steps in the right direction, but Thursday’s bout with Napa Valley foe Justin-Siena showed that there are still some early season kinks to work out.
Mental and physical mistakes doomed the Saints in a 12-2 loss against the Braves at St. Helena High on Thursday. St. Helena committed four errors and surrendered nine walks in a game where only six of Justin’s 12 runs were batted in.
“We played horrible against El Molino, and then we played outstanding on Saturday and then we come out here again and the mental errors just killed us,” a frustrated Quirici said postgame. “(Justin-Siena coach) Jeremy (Tayson) and that club, he’s got a good program over there, and you cannot give them what we gave them today and expect to compete. That game should have been nowhere near that. 12-2 is unacceptable and there’s no way that we should lay an egg like that on our field.”
Justin-Siena (2-1) scored the final eight runs of the game, plating four in the fifth and seventh innings to turn a close game into a lopsided victory in the first meeting of these two Napa Valley teams since 2015.
“It’s a step backwards,” said St. Helena starting pitcher Jack Adkins, who gave up four runs and four walks in his 1 1/3 innings of work to take the loss. “After our performance against Piedmont, we’re better than that. I don’t really know what happened. I think it was a combination of a bad start from myself – which I take full responsibility for; I can’t come on and give up runs like that – and then it kind of snowballed from there. But we’re better than that, easily.”
The Braves scored twice before St. Helena (1-2) came to bat in their half of the first. A sac-fly from Max Castellucci scored Alex Kirley for the first run and then Noah Young stole home on a throw trying to catch a runner stealing second.
The Saints had an opportunity to respond in their half of the first with runners on second and third but Stacy Nelson was backpicked at second to end the inning.
Justin added two more runs in the second without a hit, taking a 4-0 lead into the third inning.
“They are kids but my gosh, we gave up two runs in the second inning without the benefit of them getting a hit and that’s similar to what happened against El Molino,” Quirici said. “We are just not an offensive team that can give stuff away like that.”
St. Helena showed some signs of life in its half of the fourth inning. They scored two runs and threatened for more with the bases loaded with only one out but ran into more trouble on the basepaths. An infield popup was called an infield fly but Adkins, who was at third, broke home when the ball wasn’t caught and dropped between home and the mound, leading to an easy out at the plate which completed the inning-ending double play that left two runners stranded.
Quirici pointed to mistakes like that as reasons for the poor performance but has yet to identify a cause for such instances. He said that in the Saints strong performance against Piedmont, they got a stellar outing from Nelson on the mound which set the tone for the game. Falling behind before they even got an at-bat certainly didn’t help their effort on Thursday.
“Stacy (Nelson) threw a really tight game for us (last Saturday) and they put up a couple tonight and, I don’t think that deflated us but it kind of set the tone for the game,” Quirici said. “If you don’t get a scoreless first and find yourself in a hole before you even come to the plate, sometimes it just sets the tone for the evening and that cannot happen.”
Sensing blood in the water, the Braves turned up a gear in the fifth. They scored a run on a throwing error from St. Helena catcher Caleb Jeske, another on a walk, and then two more on an RBI single from Will Natuzzi, who was 2 for 3 with three RBIs and two runs scored to pace the Braves.
Justin scored four more in the seventh for good measure.
The Braves used three different pitchers to stymie the Saints’ bats. Senior Ethan Wesson made his first varsity start and threw two scoreless innings, allowing one hit on three strikeouts and four walks. Freshman Nick Andrews relieved him and went the next three innings, allowing two unearned runs on three hits, three strikeouts and two walks but earned the win. Senior Luigi Albano-Dito worked the last two innings and yielded one hit and one walk and struck out four.
For the Saints, Adkins was relieved by Caleb Granados who went 4 2/3 innings, allowing five hits, four runs two walks and struck out three. Luis Robledo closed things out in the seventh but walked three and allowed four runs and struck out one in the frame.
At the plate, Nelson was 1 for 2 with an RBI, walk and a run scored for the Saints. JV call up Liam Gilson got his first varsity hit and played a solid all-around game.
“He was a bright spot in an otherwise dark evening,” Quirici said of Gilson.
For Justin, Kirley went 2 for 4 and scored two runs while Young, Castellucci and Albano Dito Luigi each drove in a run. The Braves stole eight bases a team.
St. Helena looks to bounce back on Saturday when it hosts Lick-Wilmerding at 2 p.m., while Justin played at Hayward on Friday afternoon.
Justin JV tops Saints 9-4
The Braves improved to 2-1 with Thursday’s victory at St. Helena (1-2).
Justin-Siena scored first in the second inning when a Jackson Dann sacrifice fly plated Max Zunst, who had earlier walked, stolen second base and gone to third on the errant throw. The Braves added five runs in the third, with a three-run double by Bryce Laukert being the big blow.
The Braves took a 9-0 lead into the bottom of the fifth, when the Saints took advantage of some wildness on behalf of the pitcher and some key hits to score four runs. David Elias came on in relief for the Braves and stopped the Saints the rest of the game. Madden Edwards got the win in relief of starter Keith Binz, with Harrison Ronayne taking the loss for St. Helena.
Leading the Braves at the plate were Laukert (double, single, four RBIs, two runs scored), Daniel Kelly (double, single), Braden Snoke (two RBIs), Dann (two RBIs), Zunst (two runs, two stolen bases) and Binz (two runs scored).
For the Saints, Rehn Bothof drove in a run and drew a walk, Spencer Printz and Alijandro Guman each went 1 for 3 and drove in a run while Jasper Henry went 2 for 3 with a walk and a run scored.
“We as a team are still building our chemistry and answering questions,” said Justin-Siena head coach Rick Romero. “We played well early and Elias really picked us up on the mound when we needed it. Laukert and Kelly played well as did Dann and Zunst, who both happen to be from St. Helena.”
The Braves are scheduled to travel to Terra Linda on Tuesday to face the Trojans weather permitting.
The Saints are at Vintage at 11 a.m. on Saturday.