When Elk Grove and Davis High square off on the baseball diamond, the game is usually full of intensity and emotion — and always comes down to the wire.
Tuesday’s most recent edition of the rivalry featured the host Blue Devils holding a lead for nearly the entire game, but the big hitting of the Thundering Herd proved to be too much down the stretch of a 6-4 extra-inning EGHS win.
The victory moves Elk Grove (21-4, 12-2 Delta Valley Conference) into first place for now, and turns Wednesday’s rematch into a winner-take-all contest for the DVC crown.
“Well, we gotta come back and play (Wednesday),” said DHS head coach Dan Ariola, whose team fell to 15-10-1 overall and 11-3 in conference play. “Elk Grove is good — they’ve won about 15 straight — we’ll bounce back (Wednesday). We played well (Tuesday).”
The Devils drew first blood in the second inning, when Nate Curtis singled and advanced to third on an error and a single by Quentin McCray.
McCray then got caught in a rundown after a back-pick attempt by the Herd, allowing Curtis to time his dash perfectly and slide head-first into home easily.
In the next inning, John Ariola was hit by a pitch and advanced to third on two consecutive Elk Grove errors. Sophomore Ryan Kreidler stepped up next and, as usual, delivered the hit when it was needed.
The locals nursed that 2-0 lead for nearly the entire game thanks to yet another masterful performance from ace Matt Trask, who struck out seven and gave up only three hits through the first six innings.
“Matt threw well, but his pitch count got up there,” Ariola said.
And in the seventh, the Herd’s big bats finally came alive. Ryan Robards and Landon Gastelum led off the inning with singles, then EGHS’ Nick Madrigal slapped the first pitch he saw into the outfield, scoring both Robards and Gastelum.
Still, the Blue Devils had their chance in the bottom of the seventh.
With two outs, Drew Gnos reached on a fielder’s choice, which brought up leadoff hitter John Ariola. The senior sent a 1-0 pitch to deep center field and Gnos took off flying from first. When Gnos got to third, Dan Ariola’s arm spun around like a windmill signaling Gnos to try and score.
“We had a chance to win it there in the bottom of the seventh and I was hoping that they would throw the ball away at the plate,” Ariola said.
He was wrong.
The relay from the Herd’s center fielder to its shortstop to its catcher was performed perfectly and nabbed Gnos by two steps.
The play at the plate had the visitors visibly fired up, and all the momentum swung their way. Elk Grove, the recent winner of the Boras Baseball Classic, went right back to work in the top of the eighth.
After a series of walks and singles, Madrigal and Carlos Moseley broke open the game with consecutive RBI doubles, extending the Herd’s lead to 6-2.
With one last chance, DHS loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the frame. Two runs came home, but that was all the Devils got.
“We’ve been up 9-1 and these guys have still found a way to beat us,” Ariola said. “It’s never over. The hardest thing to do is to get the last out on these guys; that’s why they win all the time.”
Davis — which beat the Thundering Herd, 6-2, earlier this season — heads to Elk Grove on Wednesday at 4:15 p.m. for all the marbles.
Although the two teams would have identical records if Davis wins today, the Blue Devils hold the tiebreaker.
Notes: EGHS shortstop Madrigal looked more like a wizard on Tuesday as shortstop made several impressive plays to keep the game close. … On Moseley’s eighth-inning RBI double, the second baseman got greedy and tried to take third. After a clean relay sequence, the Blue Devils easily tagged out Moseley at third with Trey Golston applying the tag. Moseley got up after Golston tagged him out and shoved Golston in the chest, leading to a shouting match between the two players and both benches clearing. The umpires and coaches kept the situation under control and no punches were thrown.
— Reach Thomas Oide at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterThomas.