ST. HELENA – Friday evening had the potential to be like so many other games this season that the St. Helena Baseball team had experienced.
The Saints had just blown a lead in the top of the seventh inning, but a walk-off double by junior Luis Robledo blasted the Saints to a 7-6 upset victory over Willits.
The whole St. Helena team rushed out to second base and swarmed Robledo as the Saints improved to 2-3 in North Central League I play, 4-11 overall, and began their second winning streak of the season.
“Two times this week they have been able to go out and mob their teammates,” St. Helena head coach Darrell Quirici said. “So that is good to see. It’s heartwarming.”
It was déjà vu for St. Helena this week as the hosts pulled off their second walk-off in almost identical fashion. The Saints defeated Cloverdale 7-6 on Tuesday in an eight-inning game after losing the lead in the top of the seventh. The past five games for St. Helena have all been decided by one run.
Caleb Granados picked up the win in each contest after coming in as the closer.
“The seventh inning has not been our friend this season,” Quirici said. “We had a two-run lead against Cloverdale, tonight, and last week against Lower Lake. Three times we haven’t been able to finish the deal.”
The Saints broke the scoreless tie in the bottom of the first. Casey Walker led off the inning by reaching on an error. Walker stole second base, and a fielder’s choice pushed the leadoff hitter to third. Jack Adkins smacked a single to centerfield to knock in Walker.
Willits drove in two runs in the top of the third inning off starting pitcher Stephen Collins, with team fielding errors not helping out the senior hurler.
“Stephen Collins has been our rock on the mound this season, and he just ran out of gas in the end.” Quirici said. “He didn’t practice this week after suffering an ankle injury against Cloverdale. He did an admirable and commendable job. He got us to the seventh inning and he knew he was done.”
Collins pitched a solid 6 1/3 innings, giving up two earned runs on 10 hits while striking out two batters. It took no time for the Saints to tie the contest back up. Zack Flood led off the bottom of the third inning with a walk, stole second base, and scored with two out on Randall Mosley’s single to left field to make it 2-2.
St. Helena ran wild on the base paths all evening, picking up a season-high seven stolen bases.
“We took advantage of a catcher that didn’t have the strongest arm and their pitcher didn’t have the quickest jump to the plate,” Quirici said. “Team speed is not a strength of ours this season, except for a couple of kids.”
Collins helped himself out in the bottom of the fourth inning, taking first base with a leadoff walk, stealing second, and scoring on Granados’ base hit to right field for a 3-2 lead.
The Saints did the largest bulk of their damage in the fifth inning. Flood got another free pass, this time by getting hit by pitch from Wolverines starter Cody Pedersen, and quickly stole second base. Willits (7-9, 3-4 NCL I) was able to get two quick outs, but Mosley was also hit by a pitch and Collins smashed a ground ball into centerfield to knock in Flood.
Alex Kerr, after striking out in the previous inning, picked up the second largest hit of the game by blooping a fly ball into a hole in right field to drive in Mosley and Collins for a 6-2 lead.
The Saints headed to the top of the dreaded seventh inning and, almost like a script, Willits rapidly clawed back into the game. The Wolverines quickly put two runners on with a line drive single to center and, after a strikeout, a hit batter, ending Collins’ strong evening. With Granados on the mound, back-to-back errors advanced the two runners and pushed them home in quick fashion. That tied the game at 6-6, before Granados threw a nasty slider to strike out the final hitter of the inning.
“Some good things happened,” Quirici said. “Obviously we made some mistakes, like critical errors in the top of the seventh. We aren’t a good enough team to be giving away runs like that; we aren’t at that level at this point, but I hope we get there.”
As the Saints walked to the dugout out after the final out of the seventh inning, catcher Caleb Jeske exclaimed “Well, let’s just get ourselves another walk-off boys.”
Designated hitter Jack Adkins drew a five-pitch walk and Eric Martinez pinch-ran for him. A sacrifice bunt by Mosley moved Martinez over to second, and Collins was intentionally walked. Willits forced a quick pop-up by Kerr to the shortstop, bringing up Robledo. He quickly fell behind in the count with two heavy swings and misses. But Robledo didn’t miss the third pitch of the at bat, smashing a line drive into the outfield scoring the speedy Martinez with ease.
“The way we were struggling, these two wins feel good,” Quirici said. “We have had some hard luck this season, and to get the one against Cloverdale and the one tonight is just great for the kids. Luis has been struggling at the plate recently, and he just squared one up and center punched it.”
St. Helena JV 4, Willits 1
Before the junior varsity afternoon game, the Saints grouped together down the first-base line and were asked what the No. 1 rule was. They answered “Have fun,” and went on to do just that and more as three St. Helena pitchers combined for a one-hitter.
The Wolverines took a brief lead in the first inning. The leadoff hitter reached on a dropped third strike and scored two at-bats later. But starter Liam Gilson threw strikes all afternoon, fanning the side in the second inning.
“When I am pitching I don’t really think,” Gilson said. “Whatever goes just goes and, for me personally, I just go inning by inning. So I didn’t think about the first inning.”
Jackson Dena led off the second inning for the Saints with a single in the gap between first and second base. He nabbed second base and scored when Sam Coltrin hit a ground-rule double over the fence in left field. Gabe Cornejo hit Coltrin over to third base, and a catcher’s error allowed Coltrin to score from third for a 2-1 lead.
The Saints kept up the pressure in the third, as Jonathan Gamble hit a ground-ball single into centerfield. Gamble stole second and Stacy Nelson III knocked a double into left field, driving in the younger brother of former Justin-Siena star defensive end David Gamble.
Dena came in to pitch in the fourth inning and gave up Willits’ lone hit of the game with a ground ball up the middle. Dena, having not pitched since the second game of the season, calmed down and handled two innings of work admirably.
“I think we did good besides the errors,” Dena said. “We didn’t let them get to our head. It felt really good to get back onto the mound and get back into the game.”
The most impressive sight of the afternoon was the pitching of Nelson. The freshmen flashed legit fastball speed, striking out five of the six batters he faced to end the game. The young flamethrower should be a player to watch over the next couple years.
“I think we came in pretty confident today (because) our last game we won 14-2 over Cloverdale,” Nelson said. “We knew we were a good team coming into today and we showed it.”