Talk about a Sweet 16.
Sixteen years after its most recent postseason victory, the Carlmont High baseball team turned the Central Coast Section playoffs upside down by shocking No. 1 seed St. Francis 4-3 in a Division I opener in Mountain View on Wednesday afternoon.
The Scots’ seed? No. 16, of course.
After enduring three consecutive first-round ousters at the hands of powerhouse programs, Carlmont broke through in a huge way against mighty St. Francis (25-6). The visiting Scots (19-8) became the first No. 16 seed to topple the top seed in the Division I playoffs in 12 years.
“(It’s) a hallmark moment for our program, a hallmark moment for our kids and a hallmark moment for the (Peninsula Athletic League),” sixth-year Carlmont coach Rich Vallero said. “They’re one of the top teams in the United States, in California. No one gave us a chance to get it done.”
The stunning upset nearly didn’t happen.
St. Francis, the West Catholic Athletic League champion, and reliever Kevin Zhang were one out away from locking up a 3-2 victory. With two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the seventh inning, Carlmont’s Justin Fink found just the right spot with a ball that went for a game-tying infield single and then an error that allowed the go-ahead run to score. The tough play, if executed perfectly, would have been the final out.
St. Francis second baseman Trevor Bettencourt fielded the ball and threw toward first, but the throw handcuffed first baseman Richard Prigatano, who had to scamper back to the bag after first making a play on the grounder. The ball got away, allowing both Willie Baroncini and Kyle Barret to score. With two outs, Barret had been running on contact from second base.
In the bottom of the seventh, Carlmont starter Daniel Madigan worked through an error to start the inning and then a two-out walk to close out an impressive complete-game performance. With the tying run at second and winning run at first, the left-hander induced a grounder from Jonathan Nelson that Barret, the Scots’ freshman shortstop, took to second for a game-ending force play.
Carlmont advances to meet No. 8 seed Salinas (18-9-1) in a quarterfinal on Saturday. The time and place have yet to be announced.
Madigan (8-3) allowed seven hits and three runs, all earned, in hurling his sixth complete game. The senior—“that guy’s a warrior,” Vallero said—struck out six and walked five in his 116-pitch effort.
Colton Hicks, Ryan Anthony and Madigan had two hits apiece to lead the Scots’ 10-hit attack. Baroncini and Hicks both had infield singles in the seventh before Fink delivered one of his own.
St. Francis starting pitcher Alex Blandino hit a two-run home run in the third to give the hosts a 2-1 lead. Carlmont pulled even in the fourth when Anthony scored on Blandino’s two-out balk. And St. Francis went ahead 3-2 in the sixth when a Bettencourt single drove in George Saba, who drew a leadoff walk.
St. Francis, a team with four Pac-10 recruits and a few other college-bound players, was considered perhaps the co-favorite in the Division I bracket, along with defending champion Mitty.
Carlmont came into Wednesday very familiar with just how daunting a task it faced against the WCAL heavyweight. The Scots had come extremely close to ending their CCS drought in recent years—all against top programs—but “the pain,” as Vallero called it, continued.
In 2008, Carlmont had a 3-0 lead and was six outs away from stunning No. 4 seed Mitty on the Monarchs’ diamond, only to fall 5-3 to the eventual runner-up. The next year, the Scots suffered a 2-1 defeat in 10 innings to Wilcox. And last year, Carlmont again drew Mitty and lost 9-3 to the eventual champion.
Those defeats made Wednesday’s celebration all the sweeter.
“Three first-round exits against giants … who would’ve thought that with a No. 16 seed, that’s the year we’d knock the door down?” Vallero said. “It was an opportunity of a lifetime for our kids, and they took advantage of it.”
In another surprising first-round game, Homestead beat Serra 7-2. Click to see Patch's coverage.
Carlmont 4, St. Francis 3
C – 100 100 2 – 4 10 1
SF – 002 001 0 – 3 7 1
WP: Madigan. LP: Zhang.
HR: Blandino (SF). 2B: Madigan (C); Blandino (SF). 2 hits: Madigan, Hicks, Anthony (C); Blandino, Bettencourt (SF). 2 RBI: Blandino (SF).
Records: Carlmont 19-8. St. Francis 25-6.