Baseball: 2016 season comes to a close after second straight CCS quarterfinal apperance

The+Matadors+dugout+watches+as+their+teammates+play+of+the+field.+They+especially+came+to+life+in+the+later+innings%2C+when+more+was+on+the+line.+

The Matadors dugout watches as their teammates play of the field. They especially came to life in the later innings, when more was on the line.

Pranav Iyer

Round of 16: #2 Willow Glen HS vs #15 MVHS

MVHS had to made the short trek to Willow Glen HS on May 18 to face the perennial powerhouse Rams. As a fifteen seed, they were heavy underdogs. Photo by Pranav Iyer.
MVHS had to made the short trek to Willow Glen HS on May 18 to face the perennial powerhouse Rams. As a fifteen seed, they were heavy underdogs. Photo by Ankit Dua.

Additional reporting credits to Ankit Dua.

The CCS playoffs. An underdog role. Both familiar sights for the Matadors. Coming off a quarterfinal run in last year’s tournament, the Matadors were ready for the Goliaths of the CCS. And on May 18, they traveled to the second seed Willow Glen HS, a “typical powerhouse” and left with the 2-1 victory as the fifteen seed.

Having done it once already, the Matadors came in with the mentality that they were going to win, despite being ranked thirteen seeds lower than the Rams. A year ago, the first six seeds were upset in the opening round of the tournament, so the Matadors knew anything could happen regardless of skill level.

“Baseball is a game where the best team doesn’t always win,” senior Ryan Granzella said, “just who’s better that day.”

In the first matchup between the two, MVHS lost 1-0 despite junior Allen Iwamoto’s no-hitter. On Wednesday, another pitching duel was on display, this time between seniors Surya Kumaraguru and Joe Hutchings.

In the first two innings, both pitchers displayed their dominance on the mound, preventing balls from getting to the outfield and causing frustration to build for opposing batters.

“The pitcher had the advantage,” coach Robert Hoffman said, “especially the first couple of times through. They had their stuff working but towards the end, they started to get tired, get the balls over the plate.”

In the third, the Matadors started to get a hang of Hutchings’ pitching, with the enitire lineup having seen him once already. Iwamoto started off the inning with a leadoff single. The ensuing batter, sophomore Josh Huang, tried to perform a sacrifice bunt. The throw

Although the Matadors got baserunners early in the game, they were unable to score. This inability as well as the dominant pitching from both sides kept the game knotted at 1 a piece. Photo by Pranav Iyer.
Junior Allen Iwamoto sprints down the third base line towards home plate. Although the Matadors got baserunners early in the game, they were unable to score. Photo by Pranav Iyer.

to second was too late for the the speedy Iwamoto and the Matadors had runners on first and second with no out. Another bunt advanced the runners to second and third putting Granzella in the perfect position to have his biggest hit of the season. But instead, he hit a fly ball shallow enough that Iwamoto could not tag from third. Kumaraguru followed that up with a grounder to end the inning, allowing Hutchings and the Rams to get out of a hole.

After 1-2-3 innings from both sides in the fourth, the Rams finally gathered some offensive momentum in the top of the fifth. With two outs, senior Jack Rothenburg extended the inning by getting onto base via an infield single. Junior Jacob Alvarez followed that up with a single to put runners on first and second. It looked like the Rams would get on the board first as a ball was hit into short left field, about to drop. But sophomore Sathya Kumaraguru sprinted down the field to make an gutsy sliding catch to to end the inning and ignite fire into the Matadors.

And that fire stayed lit as MVHS switched sides the ensuing inning. Senior Matt Li got things going with a line drive double perfectly down the third base line. Two batters later, sophomore Josh Huang, statistically the best batter for MVHS, was intentionally walked. Ding then hit a grounder and the Rams were able to get Huang out at second but Ding and Li remained safe at first and third. This set things up perfectly for Granzella. Again, there were two runners on base. Again, he had a chance to give his team the lead. And this time he converted with what he said later was the biggest hit of life.

“I had already been in a similar situation and I didn’t come through,” Granzella said, “so I knew that if I wanted to sleep, I had to get a hit. I changed my approach, so instead of trying to pull the ball since he was pinning the outside corner, I just went with it down the line.”

Granzella’s hit, a triple, brought both runners home. Even though the Rams got out of the inning soon after, the damage had already been done and it was clear that the momentum had shifted towards the Matadors side.  

Senior Surya Kumaraguru winds up to pitch. His consitency at the mound was huge for the Matadors in this game. Photo by Pranav Iyer.
Senior Surya Kumaraguru winds up to pitch. His consitency at the mound was huge for the Matadors in this game. Photo by Pranav Iyer.

But WGHS, being among the best in the CCS for years, put their rally caps on and started a run in the bottom of the sixth. In a one out situation with a runner on first, a slow, short grounder was hit to Huang at third base. Although it looked like a routine out, Huang was unable to secure the ball in his glove and both runners were safe. A walk the ensuing at-bat resulted in a bases loaded situation.

The Rams were motivated to not let their stellar season end so soon, while the Matadors were hanging on to this miracle upset for dear life.  Despite the situation, all the Rams could do was cut the lead in half. A sac fly scored the runner from third and a groundout by the following batter ended the inning.

Ding came in to close out the game in the seventh. After hitting a batter with one out, both sides started to get jittery. Knowing one swing could end the game, Ding promptly put the final two batters away. The Matadors’ players ran onto to the field from the dugout, jumping up in exhilaration, knowing they had done something that very few thought they could.

“It felt really good knowing where we started this year,” Granzella said, “getting blown out by teams, getting shutout by them. We were able to do what most people don’t expect us to do. They see us as a bunch of nerds but we can play sports too.”

Quarterfinals: #10 Leigh HS vs #15 MVHS

May 23, 2015. The Matadors had just lost a heartbreaker to the Sequoia Cherokees in the CCS Division I quarterfinals. What head coach Nick Bonacorsi thought was one of the best teams in MVHS history, was also one that he thought would only get better the following year, despite losing the leadership and dominance of Sam Nastari and Sheldon McClelland.

“Next year,” Bonacorsi said a year ago, “we’ll see you in the semifinals.”

This season, the Matadors had yet again defied expectations and made it to the quarterfinals as a fifteen seed. On Saturday, May 21, they were faced with a matchup against the mighty Leigh Longhorns at Bellarmine High School. And again, their season came to an end, as they suffered a 10-3 loss on a gloomy and rainy day.

 

Fans from both sides showed up with their umbrellas. The impact of the rain was definitely felt by the players, especially early on. Photo by Pranav Iyer.
Fans from both sides showed up with their umbrellas. The impact of the rain was definitely felt by the players, especially early on. Photo by Pranav Iyer.

The first few innings, the rain was pouring hard. After playing their hottest game of the season just a few days before, the environment was the complete opposite and they were clearly not ready for this change.

 

“The mound was horrible and pitching on it, your foot was slipping and a lot of balls were thrown away,” junior Jared Slater said. “So, I think the temperature and weather definitely had an effect on this game.”

The Matadors had the opportunity to jump out to an early lead in the first with runners in scoring position. Sophomore Jarrett James hit a deep fly ball that seemed was going to drop, but the LHS left fielder was able to snag it to end the inning.

In the bottom of the second, Leigh had a bases loaded situation following a HBP. With two outs, a wild pitch by senior Andrew Ding allowed the runner from third to score. Before the inning was over, the Longhorns were able to bring another runner across to increase the lead to two.

Granzella gets prepared for a ball to be thrown his way. He was busy at the plate all game, chasing after wild pitches and trying to tag out runners at home. Photo by Pranav Iyer.
Granzella gets prepared for a ball to be thrown his way. He was busy at the plate all game, chasing after wild pitches and trying to tag out runners at home. Photo by Pranav Iyer.

The Matadors knew this was a hole they could get out of, as they have shown many times before. But once again, they were unable to come through with with two outs. Following a line drive by senior Ryan Granzella with runners on first and second, the throw from the outfield got to home plate before the runner, resulting in the third out of the inning. Once again, LHS had escaped without damage.

The third inning is when it all fell apart for MVHS. The onslaught was started off with a home run from the 6’5’’, 190 pound junior Kyle Johnson, the first the Matadors have seen all season. After giving up a walk, Ding was promptly subbed out for junior Allen Iwamoto.

With the rain still falling, Iwamoto was unable to find his footing on the mound and his grip on the ball. The bases were loaded with one out and Iwamoto walked home senior Andrew Cabri for the fourth run of the inning. Then, a line drive into the outfield scored two more.

The pattern repeated itself once more, as Iwamoto walked another runner home and then allowed a hit to score another two to make the score a whopping 9-0 in just the third inning.

Two Longhorns celebrate at home plate after scoring a run. Things just did not go the Matadors' way in the second and third. Photo by Pranav Iyer.
Two Longhorns celebrate at home plate after scoring a run. Things just did not go the Matadors’ way in the second and third. Photo by Pranav Iyer.

“This whole game, it felt like all the balls I was throwing weren’t going the right way,” Iwamoto said. “I figured I would start finding the zone eventually but things don’t always go your way. I was definitely bummed and disappointed because I thought I let the whole team down and I pretty much did.”

Facing a nine run deficit, the Matadors were drained both mentally and physically. What was a raucous dugout the entire year became virtually silent. But still, Bonacorsi and the Matadors held onto what little hope they had left.

“Its high school baseball,” head coach Nick Bonacorsi said. “I always have hope. We have the potential. We have the bats to put up huge numbers if we need to get it going.”

After the seven-run disastrous third inning, the Matadors came out flat in the following inning. All it took was five pitches to retire all three batters. It was becoming clockwork for the Longhorns.

Senior Matthew Hui crosses home plate in the fifth. MVHS finally showed some life late in the game, but it was too little, too late. Photo by Pranav Iyer.
Senior Matthew Hui crosses home plate in the fifth. MVHS finally showed some life late in the game, but it was too little, too late. Photo by Pranav Iyer.

But in the top of the fifth, the Matadors finally started to put together a comeback. The rain had settled down. They were able to find their way around the pitching of senior Matt Remmel and got baserunners on board. MVHS had the bases loaded with Ding up to bat, and he was able to single home Iwamoto and senior Matt Burke, cutting the deficit to seven. Then, Granzella sent home Hui to make the score 9-3.

Just like that, the Matadors had life. The dugout and the crowd emerged from their silence and made themselves noticed.

Two batters later, the bases were loaded with two outs. Slater up to bat. He hit a long fly ball deep to left field. If it dropped, it would score at least two, if not three. The Matadors would be right back in the game. But just as they had done twice before in the game, MVHS couldn’t come up with clutch two out hitting. Slater’s bomb was caught about 30 feet in front of the left field fence to stop the rally at three runs.

“If that ball had gotten down,” Slater said, “we could have maybe cut it to two runs maybe, but you never know.”

That play sucked the little life that the Matadors did have and from there it continued to go downhill. LGH tacked on another run in the bottom of the sixth while the Matadors went scoreless the final two innings. Despite the blowout loss, the Matadors held their heads high as they shook hands with the opposition after the game. It was all smiles in their team meeting and as they greeted their friends and family.

2016 Season Recap

“This season was one of the best seasons we’ve had in league in a long time, going 11-4,” Iwamoto said. “I don’t think the season could have gotten any bother. It sucks that to end like this but we played great this whole season and I think it was a great experience.”

Two straight CCS quarterfinal appearances and top three finishes in league is a massive accomplishment for the Matadors. Both of these feats can be largely accredited to the current senior class, consistent of Ryan Granzella, Surya Kumaraguru, Matthew Li, Matthew Hui, Matthew Burke, Andrew Ding and Peter Kim. In addition, it shows promise for the future of MVHS baseball, with the pitching of Slater and Iwamoto and the power hitting of sophomores Josh Huang and Jarrett James.

“It says a lot about our senior class and it says a lot about the future of our baseball program,” Bonacorsi said. “We’re in a good place right now and the seniors have led the way. They worked hard. They did all the things they needed to do leading up to this season and the results are there, so it shows the younger guys what you have to do to be successful.”

The 2016 baseball season has come to an end for the Matadors. However, they see continued success in their future. Photo by Pranav Iyer.
The 2016 baseball season has come to an end for the Matadors. However, they see continued success in their future. Photo by Pranav Iyer.

Another year of Monta Vista baseball in the history books. An abysmal start. A constantly improving team. Winners of four out of their five season series. A second place finish in league. A victory over the two-seeded powerhouse Willow Glen HS.

And another promise.

“Anytime you make it this far you can’t be mad,” Bonacorsi said. “We met my expectations. We exceeded my expectations. They had a great year. I’m happy with where they are at, but I will see you in the semifinals next year.”