DANVILLE — A loud and enthusiastic pro-Danville crowd, a strike zone that made no one happy and the pressure of being the top seed all worked against San Mateo American in the winner-take-all championship finale against Danville in the Section 3 tournament.
The East Bay squad scored early and often and San Mateo could get nothing going offensively for the second straight game as rival Danville completed the sweep of the two-game championship series with a 7-1 victory Wednesday to clinch the Section 3 10-11 All-Star tournament.
The win sends Danville to the Northern California state championship tournament in Turlock beginning Aug. 3. San Mateo's season ends with the loss.
In a game that is all about adjustments, Danville handled it better than San Mateo. It was apparent early that the strike zone was going to be a tight one, with not many pitches above the belt being called strikes.
San Mateo starter Landon King was visibly frustrated, and later reliever Max Yeh, and manager Paul Witten did everything he could to help his pitchers, who combined to walk nine Danville batters.
“I talked to the ump about the strike zone. I wasn't arguing, but I told him, 'You're forcing us to do thing we don't normally do,'” Witten said. “We weren't getting [any calls] up (in the strike zone).”
Witten said the umpire was consistent with the strike zone and blamed himself for not helping his players better deal with frustrations.
“My job is to keep them (all the players) calm and focused,” Witten said. “I didn't do a good enough job keeping them calm.”
Danville starter, Colin Schmeigel, on the other hand, handled the strike zone just fine as he threw a complete-game, three-hitter on just 83 pitches. Evan Gilbert had a pair of singles for San Mateo in the second and fifth innings, while King had an infield hit in the first.
Schmeigel struck out seven while walking only three. He wasn't blowing San Mateo away, they either could not square him up or were robbed by a couple brilliant Danville defensive plays. In the top of the first, with San Mateo's Shay-nen Young drawing a one-out walk, King came up and smoked a hot shot toward the hole at second. Danville second baseman Chase Botsford not only smothered the hard-hit grounder, he had enough wherewithal to, from the seat of his pants, force out Young at second and extinguish a burgeoning rally.
In the top of the second, San Mateo's Jake McGee cued a foul ball off the end of his bat into foul territory along first base. Danville first baseman Kolten Croghan ranged to his left and made a diving, shoe-top catch for the second out. The inning ended when Danville right fielder Charlie O'Hagan made a long run into foul territory and made a forward diving lunge to snare the ball just above the grass and held it up as proof the catch was made and the inning was over.
“Their pitcher did a good job pitching to that zone,” Witten said.
The inability to adjust and throw strikes consistently hurt San Mateo all game long. Danville scored seven runs on just six hits, but took advantage of nine walks, which resulted in three runs scored and a pair of RBIs. Danville loaded the bases via walks in the first inning and its first came courtesy of the fifth walk of the inning. Danville scored it second run on a fielder's choice.
San Mateo answered back in the top of the second. DJ Ruiz drew a lead-off walk, went to second on Gilbert's first hit of the game, took third on wild pitch and scored when the catcher's throw to third got past the third baseman.
The run cut the Danville lead to 2-1, but it would be the only run of the game for San Mateo.
“At the end of the day, I'm super proud of these guys,” Witten said of his squad.
Danville added two more in both the second and third innings and rounded out the scoring with run in the fifth. Croghan drove in a pair of runs for Danville, while Fitzgibbon scored twice and drove in a run.