Kyle Cambron just keeps getting it done.
Sequoia’s big right-hander fired his eighth straight complete game Thursday to lead the No. 3-seed Cherokees (20-7-1) to a 5-2 win over No. 14 Fremont (15-12) in the opening round of the Central Coast Section Division I playoffs.
This one was a little different for Cambron though, and not merely because it was a playoff game. After battling an ear infection all week, the senior said he never doubted he’d take the ball for Sequoia’s first CCS playoff home game in 20 years. However, what he did question was whether or not his clockwork endurance would hold up.
But with brow dripping sweat and uniform soaked through and through in the seventh inning, Cambron was a picture of fiery emotion as he closed it out by notching his season-high eighth strikeout, giving Sequoia its first win in a CCS playoff game since 1998.
“It was a great feeling to get that last out,” Cambron said. “It was the first CCS win for Sequoia in a long time. So, it felt really good to be a part of that.”
Cambron allowed a first-inning run on a balk to plate Firebirds leadoff hitter Nick Del Rosario, but buckled down from there. The senior allowed two runs on five hits and walked just one to improve his record to 11-1.
“He actually decided to use four pitches today instead of his usual two,” Sequoia catcher Chris Ortiz said. “So, he had an extra slider and a changeup going today. His slider was on point. That was his strikeout pitch.”
The Cherokees bounced right back from the early deficit in support of Cambron, scratching out a run in the first before taking the lead on an RBI single by Jarrett Crowell in the second. Sequoia went on to score two in the inning then two more in the third and led the rest of the way.
Sequoia tabbed seven hits throughout while every Cherokees batter reached base in the game.
“All these guys are good hitters,” Ortiz said. “They may not all get the opportunities they used to get but [batters at the bottom of the order] could probably be top-of-the-order or [middle-of-the-order] hitters for almost any team on the Peninsula. We have good hitters up and down our lineup.”
Behind the plate, Ortiz has been one of the secrets to Cambron’s success on the mound this season. The senior backstop has caught Cambron since they were freshmen on the Sequoia frosh-soph squad. But this year the battery mates have taken their game to the next level as — unlike most amateur catchers — Ortiz calls his own pitches.
Sequoia manager Corey Uhalde approached the astute Ortiz with the idea toward the end of last season. Ortiz immediately warmed to the idea, and after calling something of a gem in a simulated game, Uhalde began handing the pitch-calling reins to Ortiz.
“He’s someone who has got a future in baseball,” Uhalde said. “And I thought he could grow a lot as a baseball player if he learned those situational things. … And it just sort of added to the feel of a veteran team that is experienced.”
Indeed, with a 12 seniors on the roster, Sequoia will lose a majority of its current squad next season. But if the Cherokees are going to catch lightning in a bottle by making a run at their first CCS title since 1994, it’s going to be based on the special brand of baseball they have generated around the likes of Ortiz, Cambron and first baseman Zane Gelphman — all of whom intend to play together at the next level at Cabrillo College.
But Uhalde is taking advantage of the senior leadership while he can.
“[Ortiz] frees me up to do other stuff in the dugout,” Uhalde said. “I don’t have to be at the front of the dugout giving signals and everything. So, it allows me to extend my reach as a coach. It’s kind of a two-fold benefit — developing him as someone who understands the complexities of the game, and it allows me to get to more people.”
After falling behind 1-0, Sequoia tied it up in the bottom of the first. Tommy Lopiparo was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning. After the junior stole second, cleanup hitter Liam Clifford came through with a clutch two-out single to plate Lopiparo with the tying run.
In the second, Sequoia took the lead by generating a two-out rally via three infield hits. With two outs, Carson Parodi shot a line drive that winged off the glove of Fremont starting pitcher Alex Bernauer for a base hit. Lopiparo followed with a bounder over the middle that went for a single, moving Parodi to second. Matt Lopez walked to load the bases. Crowell followed with a slow chopper to second for an RBI infield single to score Parodi. Then Clifford walked to force home Lopiparo, giving Sequoia a 3-1 lead.
In the third, the Cherokees added a pair of insurance runs. Cameron Greenough walked to lead off the inning and Gonzalo Rodriguez shot a single to left to move him to second. Ortiz then delivered an RBI single with a blooper to right to score Greenough. Parodi followed with a sacrifice bunt attempt which Fremont catcher T.J. Solomona threw errantly to first, allowing Rodriguez to score, giving Sequoia a 5-1 lead.
Fremont added a run in the sixth when senior right fielder Abe Arias launched a solo home run to right, capping the day’s scoring.
For Fremont, it is the Sunnyvale school’s third consecutive one-and-done CCS appearance. But the Firebirds seem to be on an upswing with first-year manager Pete Hernandez at the helm. A graduate of Fremont in 2000, Hernandez starting his coaching career at Overfelt High School, where he started the baseball program in 2008. After winning the Santa Teresa League title in 2011, he returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach before taking over as manager in 2014.
“I had an opportunity to come work closer to home,” Hernandez said. “What better way than to go to your alma mater and try to get that program on its feet, and get it in the right direction.”
With the win, Sequoia moves on to Saturday’s CCS quarterfinal against No. 6-seed Christopher High School of Gilroy at a time and place to be determined. The Cherokees will give the ball to Greenough for just his third start of the year, though he punctuated the regular season May 8 with a complete-game shutout of Woodside.
“[He’s] really turned it on the last couple of weeks,” Uhalde said. “He has a lot of potential. … He’s battled through some injuries but he’s throwing the ball as well as he ever has in the last couple weeks. So, I feel good about him on Saturday.”