Baseball: Despite loss in CCS quarterfinals, Matadors are optimistic about future

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Pranav Iyer

All it took was one play to decide the outcome of this game. It wasn’t a play made by any player from either side. It was one made by the refs, at least in the minds of the Matadors.

“The ump missed the call and you can’t really change that,” junior Ryan Granzella said.

After the first six seeds lost in the first round of the CCS Division I playoffs, the playing field was lowered and the eleventh-seeded Cherokees took full advantage of that, defeating the thirteenth-seeded Matadors 5-1 on May 23 at Fremont High School.

The game was stagnant at the beginning with both teams showing signs of jitters on the big stage. However, the Matadors were finally able to put something together as they got into their groove.

Sophomore Brendan Hughes crosses homeplate to give the Matadors the edge. This was was much needed momentum for them to be in the drivers seat and be able to shake off the butterflies. Photo by Pranav Iyer
Sophomore Brendan Hughes crosses homeplate to give the Matadors the edge. This was was much needed momentum for them to be in the drivers seat and be able to shake off the butterflies. Photo by Pranav Iyer.

With two outs in the top of the fourth inning, sophomore Brendan Hughes got his second hit of the day with a hard single to right field. After stealing second base, he was brought home from an RBI by Granzella, breaking the scoreless tie.

“We were definitely the underdogs coming into the game, so we had that edge that we’re not supposed to win,” senior Sam Nastari said. “That got our momentum going and we played some solid defense and got one run across the board and that’s all it took to get the momentum to shift because once the momentum shifted, it was all on one side.”

Play at the plate

With junior Surya Kumaraguru having absolute command at the mound and the Matadors defense committing no errors, it looked like they would sneak their way into the CCS Division I semifinals as the game headed into the bottom of the sixth inning.

However, the game took a complete 180 with a SHS runner on first base with no outs. Here’s how this controversial call played out in the eyes of Nastari.

As he saw the runner coming around third, he called for the ball at the plate. After catching the ball off the bounce, the runner cut to the inside and went airborne diving for the plate. Nastari said he then tagged him on the shoulder and saw him land down on the plate.

Senior Sam Nastari expresses his emotion after the runner is called safe at the plate. This call altered the outcome of the game by giving life to the Cherokees. Photo by Pranav Iyer
Senior Sam Nastari expresses his emotion after the runner is called safe at the plate. This call altered the outcome of the game by giving life to the Cherokees. Photo by Pranav Iyer.

“I thought he was for sure out, but the ump called him safe,” Nastari said. “And I was like ‘Oh no. Even that’s only one run, it’s a huge momentum shifter. To have the 1-0 lead, to have the momentum, was great and then once they brought it back to 1-1, all the momentum shifted to their side and that’s how they got back to back hits and in kind of got into our heads and we thought, ‘ Oh my gosh, now it’s a possibility for us to lose out there.’’’

Kumaraguru, who witnessed the entire play from the mound, judged the outcome of the play more so on his teams’ reaction.

“To be honest, I didn’t think we had a chance, but it was unbelievable how fast Andrew [Ding] and Tim [Iwamoto] completed the relay,” Kumaraguru said. “So as soon as I saw how quick they got it done, I actually thought he was out because if Sam reacted like that, you knew he was out. And going with the reaction of other people, our coach coming out to argue, you know we probably had him.”

Sophomore Matt Casey of the Cherokees, who was in the dugout during this play, said that he and the rest of the team saw their teammate come home safe without question.

Although the reactions were varied, one thing was clear — from this point on, the previously lifeless Cherokees had been rejuvenated while the Matadors, who previously had all the momentum on their side, suddenly went quiet. It was not just the team — the crowd, which was mainly composed of Matador fans, was nearly silent for the rest of the game after having caused a ruckus during the five innings prior.

A Cherokee baserunner slides into third safely. Having runner on first and third with no outs in the bottom of the sixth inning gave them the upper hand. Photo by Pranav Iyer.
A Cherokee baserunner slides into third safely. Having runner on first and third with no outs in the bottom of the sixth inning gave them the upper hand. Photo by Pranav Iyer.

The next batter for the Cherokees hit a slow grounder towards the shortstop. Senior Timothy Iwamoto tried to get the runner out at third but a dive and cloud of dust later, he was called safe. This put the Matadors in a hole because there were now runners on first and third with no outs.

One more ground ball was hit, this time towards Hughes. Trying to get the runner at home, he threw a one-hopper but it took a high bounce over Nastari’s head, allowing the runner to easily score and help the Cherokees get their first lead of the game.

Sophomore Matt Casey of the Cherokees celebrates after scoring a run as part of their five-run sixth inning. During this inning, the momentum of the game completely flipped, and the Cherokees took full advantage of it. Photo by Pranav Iyer
Sophomore Matt Casey of the Cherokees celebrates after scoring a run as part of their five-run sixth inning. During this inning, the momentum of the game completely flipped, and the Cherokees took full advantage of it. Photo by Pranav Iyer.

After a strikeout and an intentional walk, the bases were loaded for the Cherokees. The bleeding could not be stopped for the Matadors. Another routine ground ball was fielded and mis thrown by senior Kevin Nordby past the first basemen Granzella and into the outfield, allowing the bases to be cleared, putting the Cherokees up 5-1, and almost completely sealing the Matadors’ fate.

Finally, the Matadors were able to get out of the inning but it did not matter, as they could not even manage a hit in the top of seventh inning.

Senior Danny Takahashi strikes out  in the top of the seventh inning to end the game and the Matadors' season. It was a tough loss for them, but most carried positive attitudes as they left the field. Photo by Pranav Iyer.
Senior Danny Takahashi strikes out in the top of the seventh inning to end the game and the Matadors’ season. It was a tough loss for them, but most carried positive attitudes as they left the field. Photo by Pranav Iyer.

“When you get to the quarterfinals of the CCS Division I playoffs, [you] have to be perfect the whole way through,” head coach Nick Bonacorsi said. “So it was the errors that killed us today. It’s hard once you get into a position like that against a team that has also made into the quarterfinals. It’s hard to stop that bleeding. It got us today in one half inning, sent us home. So that’s baseball.”

Season to remember

For many of the seniors, the meltdown in the sixth inning will stick in their memory for a long time. However, Nastari is trying to brush this single blemish aside from what was to him a memorable season.

“I’m just extremely happy to make it to CCS,” Nastari said. “One of my high school dreams for baseball was to play in a CCS game and I got even more than that. One inning doesn’t matter. I’m going to be playing baseball past high school, so it was a good season.”

The Matadors started the season extremely cold, but were able to overcome their preseason adversity, finish third in the El Camino League, sneak into the playoffs and from there, pull off one huge upset against the three seed, Christopher High School, and what would have been two if it weren’t for one inning.

“I am impressed and very, very proud of the effort we put in this year,” Bonacorsi said. “We were a team started 1-6 and we made it to the quarterfinals of the CCS [playoffs]. We exceeded our goals. We fought hard. I’m very proud of the effort we put in and this is going to go down as one of [MVHS] best baseball teams.”

Promising future

The Matadors will lose the leaders in ERA and batting average (according to MaxPreps) in the El Camino League in senior Sheldon McClelland and Nastari.

Both will be playing college baseball but haven’t decided where yet. McClelland has a scholarship offer from Division I Santa Clara University, but hasn’t decided yet if that is where he wants to go. Nastari on the other hand, is deciding whether to play at one of five junior college across the Bay Area or at Cal State Monterey Bay, a Division II school.

Nordby is trying to walk onto to the highly competitive Division I San Diego State University baseball program.

The Matadors will be losing their senior class. This consists of, going from left to right, Timothy iwamoto, William Shih, Danny Takahashi, Sam Nastari, Sheldon McClelland and Kevin Nordby. Photo by Pranav Iyer.
The Matadors will be losing their senior class. This consists of, going from left to right, Timothy iwamoto, William Shih, Danny Takahashi, Sam Nastari, Sheldon McClelland and Kevin Nordby. Photo by Pranav Iyer.

As for the future of the Matadors, although they will be losing impactful seniors, they will be returning ten of their sixteen players from their regular season roster. They will also have the sophomore class from a junior varsity team that won their league.

“This season, we called up a lot of guys for CCS, two freshmen and two sophomores,” Kumaraguru said. “The freshmen class of this year is really good. For a lot of our guys, this is our first time going to CCS, so it was kind of a new experience. We saw that the first game. But now that we’ve been here, we know what it’s about, I think next year will be a lot better.”

The expectations are high for the Matadors as they will keep on striving higher until reaching their ultimate goal of becoming CCS champions.

“So now we’ve set the bar,” Bonacorsi said. “Next year, we’ll see you in the semifinals.”