It seemed like an ordinary ending to a remarkable playoff game.
Capuchino junior Ryan Choi hit a two-hop smash at Sequoia third baseman Jack Lanham. With the bases loaded and two outs, Lanham fielded the grounder cleanly, stepped on third base for the final out, and sealed No. 8-seed Sequoia’s 9-6 upset of No. 1 Capuchino in the Central Coast Section Division II baseball opener Saturday at San Bruno Park.
There was nothing ordinary about Lanham’s day, though, as the sophomore’s previous defensive letdown in the fourth inning opened the door for a five-run Capuchino rally. But after Cap (20-4) took a 6-2 lead into the seventh inning, Sequoia (21-3) sent 11 batters to the plate amid a seven-run comeback, with Lanham recording two hits in the frame — a leadoff single to spark the rally, and an RBI single to finish it — before recording the game’s final putout.
“The baseball gods are funny,” Sequoia manager Mike Doyle said. “… You couldn’t script it any better than that.”
The baseball gods can also be cruel.
Choi, who made the final out, was also involved in a climactic defensive play in the top of the seventh with the score deadlocked 6-6. With two on and two outs, Sequoia junior Dillon Goetz drilled a deep fly ball into the right-center gap. Choi, the center fielder, ranged deep to his left and had a bead on it, but the ball hit in the palm of his glove and rattled out, allowing Sequoia to score twice on the play and take an 8-6 lead.
It was quite a moment that followed as Choi hunched over in anguish, during a pitching change, as Cap outfielders Ryan Lapuyade and Nick Gomez jogged to the center field position to console their teammate.
“That kid has been stellar all year long,” Capuchino manager Matt Wilson said. “He’s been lights out running down balls all over the place. It was just one of those things that didn’t go his way. But I wouldn’t trade him for any center fielder in the league. He’s a Gold Glove center fielder. It was just a tough play, he had to run a long way, and he came up short on it.”
Cap’s outfielders were running a long way all afternoon. To put it bluntly, Sequoia hit the snot out of the ball. But in the spacious outfield of Lara Field, where there are no outfield fences, the Mustangs were playing deep in respect of Sequoia’s power-packed lineup — hitting .367 with an astounding .563 team slugging percentage on the year — and were turning bombing flyballs into outs.
Lapuyade made an outstanding diving catch going straight back on a 330-foot flyball to right off the bat of Sequoia catcher JP Boyle to end the third inning. To start the fifth, Ravens left fielder Rocky Knuedler hit a similar fly ball to left field, only to see Gomez run it down as he approached the steep incline deep down the line. And in the sixth, Sequoia slugger Ben Singler drilled a sacrifice fly to center field that Choi caught with a foot straddling the infield dirt of the softball diamond opposite Lara Field.
“We hit some rockets out there,” Doyle said. “And credit to their outfield, they were moving all over the place.”
For three innings, the game was shaping up as a pitching duel between Sequoia’s Goetz and Cap junior Conor Meehan. Each pitcher got touched for a run in the first. Both also worked into the seventh inning.
But it was the bottom of the fourth that changed the dynamic of the game from a pitching duel to a rollercoaster ride.
The rollercoaster started with Cap threatening. The Mustangs had two on and two out when Choi hit a grounder to third base. Lanham fielded a routine grounder but the lead runner, Cesar Ceron, closed on third base like a bullet, sliding in just as Lanham arrived for a bang-bang play.
Ceron was initially called out. But after Sequoia was already in the dugout, the umpires conferred and overturned the call, ruling Ceron was safe and giving Capuchino second life with the bases loaded.
“That fired me up, and it fired everyone up,” Meehan said. “That was a momentum shift. I don’t know how he did it, honestly. I guess the third baseman, he didn’t expect it. [Choi] hustled.”
Lanham was wearing it hard, especially as Cap went on to score five runs in the inning. Gomez followed by getting hit by a pitch to force home Ceron. Cleanup hitter Nick Balch then drilled a two-run double to left. Lapuyade drove in two more with a single to center.
“The kid (Lanham) is only a sophomore,” Doyle said. “And there’s not a more level-headed, A-plus person on the team than that kid. So, I knew he would be OK. I knew he was going to be hurting. And … there’s a lesson there. And lessons, when you win, are a lot easier to learn from and not as painful as when you lose.”
Sequoia got a run back in the top of the sixth. But heading into the seventh, with Meehan dealing — he had allowed just four hits to that point — Sequoia’s prospects were looking grim.
“It’s nothing like you’ve experienced before,” Goetz said, “because you have guys that could possible be playing their last game. And, of course, none of our team, because our chemistry is so good, we didn’t want to see that happen. So, we just had to rally together and keep that thought out of our minds.”
Max McClellan produced a two-run double to make it 6-4, Kai Holm followed with an RBI single, and Boyle drove home the tying run with a groundout to second.
In the bottom of the seventh, Cap rallied to load the bases. After Justin Verna got hit by a pitch and Mario Duran walked, Sequoia summoned junior right-hander Cole Kenyon from the bullpen. Ceron tabbed a one-out hit off Kenyon to load the bases, but Sequoia’s closer settled down to retire Ryan Lordier and Choi to end it and set off celebration in the middle of the infield.
“[Kenyon] is a fired-up guy,” Doyle said. “And he loved the stage of being on the bump out there with everything on the line.”
With the win, Sequoia advances to Wednesday’s semifinal round. The Ravens travel to No. 4 Leland. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.