Winning the 2014 Sac-Joaquin Section baseball title held a basketful of challenges for Davis High.
“It was a remarkable year,” Blue Devil skipper Dan Ariola told The Enterprise.
Ariola was all smiles as he herded his squad through a championship-ring-fitting session on Tuesday: “I’m so thrilled for all these guys, the assistant coaches, the community, It was unbelievable for us to get this done.
“It was an incredible run.”
In mid-April, DHS had lost five of seven games (two Delta Valley Conference outings, three in the Boras Invitational) and was limping back into league play, greeted by a four-team race with Grant, Elk Grove and Franklin.
The Devils were 9-8-1, hitting only .271 as a team and were about to play the upstart Pacers in a crucial two-game series. Grant had beaten Davis, 3-0, in their first meeting.
In an encouraging moment in time, Davis hammered visiting Grant, 13-3. Ace Matt Trask pitched a complete-game one-hitter, Drew Gnos drove in three runs, Ryan Kreidler and Jared McNece scored three times each and Brett Bloomfield went 2-for-4.
It was the beginning of a six-game Blue Devil win streak — but the locals weren’t out of the woods yet.
Leading the DVC by a game, DHS had a regular-season-ending, two-game set with Elk Grove.
The Herd slipped past the Devils, 6-4 and 8-5, to win the circuit pennant and throw another cloud over Davis’ future — it had to win a Sac-Joaquin Section tournament play-in game against Rocklin and next-level pitcher Mitch Hart.
Mission accomplished: Trask and Bloomfield combined for a nine-inning, 2-1 victory and the postseason fun was about to get intense — and mystical.
Vacaville, Franklin and Rocklin all fell. With the Blue Devils unbeaten in the playoffs, old nemesis Elk Grove and Davis faced off again this time for the SJS North Division I crown. The Devils lost a 3-2 opener May 23 to force a winner-take-all North Division title contest later that day.
Fresh out of starters, DHS fell back on junior Kris Prince. It was his first start of 2014.
Not only did Prince win, 5-2, and send the Blue Devils into the section finals against St. Mary’s — for good measure the little-used righty won the championship game on Saturday, completing a storybook season and giving Davis its third section title under 19-year veteran skipper Ariola.
The former Davis High and UC Davis player took a second to look back on his team elements, standouts and resolve. The Enterprise played word association with Ariola:
“What to you say to defense?” he was asked. “’Solid” came the answer.
*Kreidler? ”Phenomenal.” The sophomore was an everyday shortstop who made the All-DVC first team while hitting .438 with a team-high 28 runs batted in and 14 stolen bases.
*Heart? ”The club (had it).” At 9-8-1, then again after back-to-back losses to Elk Grove, then in winning do-or-die title games with a guy making his first two starts, the Devils showed their resolve.
*Hitting? “Sufficient.” Ariola couldn’t help but laugh with that first half of the season long forgotten.
*John Ariola? “That’s tough for me to answer,” said the kid’s dad, who finally played along: “Competitive.” Ariola hit .393, got smacked with a dozen pitches, scored 34 runs (fourth best in the section) and added 16 extra-base hits while running wild on the bases and making countless sparkling plays in center field. The senior concludes three varsity years with the elder Ariola and is now headed for Cosumnes River College.
*Trask? Ariola couldn’t find the words. Replacing his .352 batting average, overall leadership and 6-1 record (1.46 ERA) might take a corps of new Blue Devils in 2015.
The list of other key contributors is long but none helped in more ways than Trey Golston. The senior played reliable defense at third base, while providing clutch hitting and saving five games as the team’s closer.
Notes: Assistant coach Marc Kenner was in the saddle for two complete playoff victories and cleaned up for Ariola in two others (the DHS head coach got run twice during the postseason). “I really am thrilled for the coaches and the job they did, especially Kenner.” Thomas Gojkovich, Tom Turay, Jeff Woodard and Robbie Bronzan were the mainstay assistants. Ariola called team members’ parents this week, thanking them for their boys’ contributions in winning former Blue Devils Gojkovich, Woodard, Kenner and Bronzan their first championship rings: “They worked hard when they played. It’s good to see them get these.” … Trask will play at UCLA next season, unless he decides to go pro. The MLB draft begins on Thursday.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-320-4456.