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SAN JOSE — It’s been over three decades since any team managed to three-peat in the Central Coast Section baseball playoffs.
Valley Christian needed a one-hit combined shutout to accomplish the feat Saturday night at Excite Ballpark, the venue formerly known as San Jose Municipal Stadium. It was just enough to hold off WCAL rival Archbishop Mitty, which had the tying runs in scoring position with two outs in the top of the seventh.
Final score: Valley Christian 2, Mitty 0.
“This is the way we wanted to go out and we made history,” said Gonzaga-bound William Kempner, who recorded the last nine outs for the save. “And that’s what we wanted to do.”
Bellarmine won four CCS titles in a row from 1985-88.
“At the beginning of the year we talked about making history,” said Cal-bound Steven Zobac, who tossed four no-hit innings and helped his own cause with a two-run double in the bottom of the third for the game’s only runs. “It’s so crazy that I don’t have any words to describe my feelings right now. It’s pretty incredible.”
It was the 650th career victory for Valley Christian coach John Diatte, who surpassed a couple of WCAL legends along the way — this week it was Bill Hutton (Mitty, 648) after earlier eclipsing the mark of Chris Bradford (St. Francis, 644).
“Winning never gets old, especially when it’s a different group,” said Diatte, who claimed his ninth CCS title since 2000. “And you watch that group mature. We started back in that last week in January and you never know what you’re going to get.”
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Top-seeded Valley Christian (29-4) needed to manage its staff in the CCS playofs after last weekend’s rainout.
Due to a CIF rule limiting pitchers 30 outs per week, Zobac could only go four innings in the championship after six shutout frames in Monday’s 6-0 win over Palo Alto in the quarterfinals. Kempner recorded the last three outs in relief, but this time he was asked to go longer.
“I had to yank a guy out of the game when he’s throwing a no-hitter,” Diatte said. “Luckily enough I have William Kempner, I’m good with that, but we played at a disadvantage and that’s how good those guys are. They came out here, even with a disadvantage, hamstrung, and still won a ballgame.”
Zobac took care of business, his only blemishes on the mound a HBP and four-pitch walk in the top of the third.
“I was pretty hyped,” said Zoba, who struck out six. “I think it’s been 30 years since someone has a three-peat, so I was stoked. And I didn’t really care about the inning rule, I know I had this guy to back me up, for sure. So it was a great day.”
Kempner retired the side in order in the fifth and sixth innings, then watched from the dugout as the Warriors loaded the bases in the bottom of the sixth only to be denied by a sliding catch from Mitty centerfielder Nick Yorke.
As it turns out, Yorke was first to the plate in the top of the seventh and promptly broke up the no-hit bid with a sharp single to centerfield.
“That’s just baseball,” Kempner said.
“We put him in those type of positions all year and he’s done a great job,” Diatte said of his closer. “He was the guy that when things got rocky, he was going in.”
“I don’t think we won a championship game by two runs in the longest time, not in my last three years here,” Kempner added. “I was tense the whole game and all I wanted to do was go out there and throw hard. Could not let a run cross the plate.”
The No. 2 Monarchs (21-11), who got five-plus innings from ace Dominic Quinones, managed to add drama in the end, but a grounder to second sealed the three-peat.
It was the first appearance in a CCS title game for Mitty since it won the Division title in 2010 with Hutton in the dugout — a 12-0 rout of Bellarmine.
“That’s the DNA of this team,” Mitty coach Brian Yocke said. “I was told four years ago when I came into baseball that you can’t have good guys and a good team. Either they’re talented and they got a little edge to them, like a little attitude to them, or they’re good guys and they’re not good players. This group is both. They have the heart I could ever ask for in a team and they have the talent to back it up and put themselves in a position where they’re a hit a away from tying or winning a game on the last day possible.”
He added: “Outcome aside, I’m really proud of these guys.”
Valley Christian manufactured the only runs in a blink of an eye. Leadoff hitter Eddie Park, a Stanford commit, opened the bottom of the third with a single. Santa Clara-bound centerfielder Coleman Brigman promptly did the same.
That brought up Zobac, who ripped a double down the right-field line, tripping on first base before reaching second standing up.
“He had an MVP year,” Diatte said. “It’s hard to come out and play that way the whole year, and he kept it up the whole year.”
It took heroics to achieve history, so how the did the team plan to celebrate a CCS three-peat?
“First, you have to congratulate the Monarchs for making it this far, such a great baseball team,” Zobac said. “And then you just basically get on the bus and start chanting.”
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