Now the fun begins …
When the baseball season started, the so-called experts had tuned out Davis High when talking about potential Sac-Joaquin Section contenders.
Three months later, the Blue Devils are being mentioned in the same breath with Elk Grove, Pleasant Grove and Jesuit.
After dismantling Monterey Trail 31-1 on Monday, DHS ran its Delta Valley Conference record to 9-2 (18-3-1 overall). The locals are a game ahead of third-place Franklin (16-6-1, 8-3) and have some real work ahead of them these next two weeks.
On Monday, Chase Hunt-Murray picked up the pitching win in the mercy rule-shortened game.
It’s impossible now for the Devils to miss the playoffs — the top three teams in each of the DVC, Delta River League and Monticello Empire League are eligible.
The cruel twist this year is that the “highest-seeded (third-place) team will advance automatically,” according to section media relations director Will DeBoard. The other two will have to play into that final eight-team north division spot on May 16.
CIF also announced last week that it is scrapping “Suicide Saturday” and moving the double-elimination north-division tourney to Sacramento City College. Playoffs begin Thursday, May 19, with two games a night being played.
In the DVC race, Franklin is already done with Elk Grove and faces 0-16 Monterey Trail (Wednesday and Friday). Meanwhile, the Blue Devils go toe-to-toe with the region’s Apollo Creed, Elk Grove (18-3, 10-0) on the road Wednesday and at home on Friday.
“We’re ready … (starter Ben Eckels) is ready,” said DHS coach Dan Ariola. “We’re still playing for a league championship, just like two years ago. We went and got it then.”
Once that dust settles, it comes down to Franklin at Davis on May 9 and the Devils traveling to play the Wildcats on May 11.
The ‘Cats beat Davis 4-3 on April 11, giving them a leg up if the two schools tie in the standings for second place.
So what does Ariola’s crew have to do over these next four games?
“We really have to take ’em one at a time,” Ariola said. “We feel we’re capable of that. If we win over there, we’ll still be in it.”
Once in the tournament, the aspect that makes the Blue Devils scary is their pitching staff.
With an earned run average visible only under the ‘scope in lab class — 1.15 — Davis has only one pitcher with an ERA over 3.11.
Ace Eckels is 5-2. Teams are getting one-half of an earned run against him each time out.
Unbeaten Jack Shelledy is 5-0 (2.08). Alec Miramontes (3-0, 0.65) and reliever Reinert Toft (1-0, 0.34) are miserly as well.
George Hatamiya, originally ticketed for work at second base and outfield, has been a reliable closer and emerged as the team’s catcher and top hitter.
A junior, the left-handed hitting Hatamiya was batting .404 through Sunday, leads the team in runs scored (21) and — now hitting in the lead-off spot — has driven in 20 runs. That’s certainly a bonus when considering how DHS has needed key hits during injury absences by Bobby Young and Ryan Plumb.
That .302 team batting average isn’t shabby, but for high school powerhouses like Jesuit (.325) and Elk Grove (.361) — which supply some power, too — it pales somewhat.
But schools that live and die by the sword, er, bat, often find their stay in the year-end section tournament short-lived.
Notes: A quick look at the contenders across the board: Top-ranked Elk Grove has 18 home runs and a 2.97 ERA; Jesuit is 15-6 (12 HRs, 3.40 ERA) and Pleasant Grove (16-5, eight HRs, 3.05 ERA) has a .300 team batting average. … In the lopsided win at Monterey Trail, outfielder Chris Gnos led the way with three hits and stand-in Jacob Vanderbilt caught a complete game while getting two hits to keep his average at .500. … The Devils’ Josh Merritt has been battling an elbow strain.