Nathan Mollat/Daily Journal
Christian Conci drives in Serra’s first run with an opposite-field single to right as the Padres advanced to the CCS DI championship game with a 6-0 win over San Benito against either Palo Alto or St. Francis.
SAN JOSE — Another baseball game for Serra, another win that featured different heroes.
Matt Blais, making his first start of the season, completely dominated, while offensive stars included Christian Conci and Anthony Ramirez in a 6-0 win over San Benito in the semifinals of the Central Coast Section Division I tournament at San Jose Municipal Stadium Wednesday afternoon.
“That’s team,” said Serra manager Craig Gianinno. “That’s commitment to team. These guys are living it right now.”
The second-seeded Padres will face either No. 5 Palo Alto or No. 1 St. Francis in the championship game at San Jose Muni Saturday night.
The biggest surprise of the day was Blais getting the starting nod on the mound. Working out of the bullpen exclusively this season, Gianinno went with his gut and started the junior Wednesday in the biggest game of the year to date.
Blais made that confidence pay off. He pitched a complete-game, two-hitter, striking out eight and walking only one. San Benito, the tournament’s third seed, managed to get only two runners to third base all game long — once in the second inning and once in the third. Other than that, Blais was nails.
“Once he got out of those first two innings, he filled up the strike zone,” Gianinno said.
Blais said he found out Tuesday he would get the start Wednesday. He said the mental preparation was a little bit different, but he tried to treat the start like any other outing.
“The night before (the game) was a little different,” Blais said. “(But I) came out ready to go. There were a little jitters at first.”
The Serra offense might have been feeling some jitters as well. After crushing their first two opponents by a combined score of 22-1, San Benito starting pitcher Connor Menez held the Padres in check through the first two innings.
In the third, fortune smiled on the Padres. With one out, Jordan Paroubeck crushed a pitch halfway up the fence in left field for a triple. Following a flyout, Conci came to the plate. After working the count to 2-2, Menez threw a pitch that was on the far left side of the plate. In protect mode, Conci flung his bat at the pitch — and dumped it just over the second baseman’s head and into right field to drive in Paroubeck with what turned out to be the only run the Padres would need.
“I was just hoping to foul it off,” Conci said. “It got there (into right field). I’ll take it.”
Said Gianinno: “That (run) created some energy and momentum for us.”
The Padres rode that momentum to two more runs in the fourth inning, thanks to one of four errors committed by the Haybalers. Sean Watkins led off the inning with a walk and went to second on a Neil Sterling single. John Murray followed with a sacrifice bunt to move the runners to second and third and bring up No. 9 hitter Ramirez.
With Watkins coming down the line on a safety squeeze play, Ramirez turned to bunt, but took the pitch, leaving Watkins out to dry. As he was caught in a rundown, however, the San Benito catcher threw the ball into left field, enabling Watkins to score and Sterling to go to third.
Ramirez made up for his gaffe, however, lifting a sacrifice fly to right field to drive in Sterling to make it 3-0 Serra.
The Padres then tacked on three more runs in the sixth. Michael Tinsley drove in a run with a single to left and Paul Murray added a sacrifice fly. A third run scored on a San Benito error.
“One through nine, everyone’s a threat,” Conci said. “We have confidence in all our guys.”