Just like the Adele song, Terra Nova set fire to the rain.
With Thursday’s practice cancelled due to rain, the Tigers held a team meeting heading into their biggest game of the year Friday night at Burlingame.
The pep talk paid off, as Terra Nova (8-4 in Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division, 15-10 overall) closed out its league schedule by topping Burlingame 5-2. With the win, the Tigers claim a co-championship with Carlmont in the PAL Bay Division.
“We were supposed to practice [Thursday] but it was raining,” Terra Nova junior Austin Youngsdale said. “We didn’t have a practice but we just had a talk and just talked about how to come out with fire and intensity, and that’s exactly what we did.”
Burlingame couldn’t hold off Terra Nova’s intensity in the early innings. The Tigers rallied for two runs in the first and two more in the second.
With or without a comfortable margin on the scoreboard, Tigers starting pitcher Anthony Gordon looked poised to put his team on his shoulders and lead them to the division crown. And that’s precisely what the senior right-hander did.
Despite a minor hiccup in the fourth inning, Gordon was masterful in just his second start of the year. The anchor of the pitching staff a year ago, Gordon missed a good portion of the season with a two-month layoff after injuring himself trying to pull a “Jackass” stunt over the winter. The junior took a 20-foot fall while attempting to jump off a roof and into a swimming pool.
Gordon broke his non-pitching wrist and fractured his pelvis. After undergoing surgery Feb. 17, he was cleared to play exactly two months later. Yet he didn’t make his first start until May 2, firing four shutout innings as Terra Nova went on to suffer a pivotal 4-2 loss to rival Half Moon Bay.
Junior right-hander Ray Falk took the loss against the Cougars that day, working just 1/3 of an inning while surrendering four runs on two hits and three walks.
Terra Nova manager Joey Gentile’s solution was simple this time around — ride Gordon the entire way.
“We knew he was getting back and getting eager to pitch,” Gentile said. “The easiest part of the decision was just [Falk] not throwing strikes. My No. 1 from last year, and a kid who I believe in and I love, but he just wasn’t getting it done.”
Gordon showed up Friday under the lights of Washington Park. He breezed through the Burlingame batting order the first time around. The junior right-hander faced just one over the minimum through the first three innings, his only blemish an infield single off the bat of Nick Franco on a soft liner back to the mound that glanced off his glove.
After the Panthers scratched out a pair of runs in the fourth, Gordon settled in to retire 12 of the last 13 batters he faced. All told, the right-hander allowed three runs — the first three runs he’s surrendered through 15 innings this season — on three hits while striking out four against no walks.
“Any time you watch Gordon throw a football or a baseball, it’s usually on target no matter where it’s going,” Gentile said. “It was really just his health, if his arm was going to withstand his throwing a real game situation.”
Terra Nova’s offense gave its junior stud a lead before he even took the mound. Striking quickly in the first inning, Youngsdale led off the game with a walk. Gordon singled to move Youngsdale to third. Then an errant pickoff throw to first allowed Youngsdale to score. After Gordon stole second, Jacob Martinez shot a ground-rule double to right-center to score Gordon, giving the Tigers a 2-0 lead.
In the second, Terra Nova added two more. Steven Sagasty and Ryan Aguas singled back-to-back to lead off the frame. Jeff Hendricks bunted them into scoring position for Youngsdale, who lined a double down the third-base line to score Sagasty and Aguas, giving the Tigers a 4-0 lead.
In the fourth, the Panthers cut the lead in half. Andrew Kennedy got things started with a leadoff infield single. Ryan Kammuller followed with a bolt down the left-field line for a double, moving Kennedy to third. Gordon balked home Kennedy. Then Kammuller scored on an RBI groundout by Franco to close the Tigers’ lead to 4-2.
But Terra Nova answered right back in the fifth. After and infield hit by Youngsdale, he eventually moved around to third. Then Falk, hitting out of the cleanup spot, locked up with Burlingame starting pitcher Andrew Maltz for a 10-pitch at-bat. The outcome was a sacrifice fly to left to plate Youngsdale, giving Terra Nova a 5-2 lead.
Burlingame produced one run in the bottom of the seventh. Jonathan Engelmann led off the inning with a double to right. The big junior stole third then plated on an RBI groundout by Franco. But Gordon buckled down, notching back-to-back strikeouts to close it out for his first ever varsity complete game.
“I was praying to get that last guy out so we didn’t have to go any farther with him,” Gentile said. “Hopefully he’s back for this last run coming up.”
For the Panthers (4-7, 7-16), the loss seals their fate of finishing in last place in the Bay Division. Currently a half game back of Menlo, Burlingame can move into a last-place tie with a win over Half Moon Bay in the rain-makeup season finale Saturday.
“[Our season] started in the dumps. Everyone knows that,” Maltz said. “We picked it up recently. We’ve won three straight in league. We were hoping to pick up this fourth straight. It’s a tough one. We’ve just got to come out tomorrow ready to play Half Moon Bay and hopefully secure a spot for [Central Coast Section playoffs].”
For Terra Nova, the CCS playoff picture looks promising. However, because the Tigers lost in both head-to-head matchups with co-champion Carlmont, the Scots earn the Bay Division’s berth into the Open Division bracket.
“We’re going to represent the PAL in the Open Division … which I embrace,” Carlmont manager Rich Vallero said. “I want to tee it up with the big boys. I think our program thrives off that.”
With Gordon’s return, Terra Nova has quickly stacked one heck of a pitching staff. Sophomore left-hander Jared Milch, the team’s workhorse having logged nearly 50 innings this season, will be in the rotation mix along with Gordon. And right-hander Sagasty has settled in as a dynamic relief option in the late innings, having tabbed a 1.60 ERA with three saves this year.
“I’ve got some more decisions to make,” Gentile said of his playoff rotation. “This one (tonight) worked out.”