Christopher wins when it counts the most

Cougars pitcher Sean Straub allowed two runs over six innings against Gilroy. Photo by Robert Eliason.

After getting swept by crosstown rival Gilroy High during the regular season, Christopher High was ready for payback. The Cougars got it in a big way, routing the Mustangs 11-2 last Saturday in a Central Coast Section Division II playoff quarterfinal at Wilcox High in Santa Clara.

“We were definitely ready for this,” Christopher starter Sean Straub said. “After those three times we played them, we knew this was our time. We came prepared and ready to go, as you saw with six runs coming out of the gate.”

The No. 12 seed Cougars (14-13-1) play top-seed Soledad (23-5) in a 4 p.m. semifinal matchup on Wednesday at San Jose Municipal Stadium. Against No. 4 Gilroy (17-10-1), Christopher used a six-run uprising in the top of the first inning to set the tone early and for all intents an purposes effectively put the game out of reach. The Cougars added three more runs in the second for good measure.

With the 1-2 pitching combo of Jonathan Newman and Straub, Christopher is primed for a title run. Newman started and was the pitcher of record in a 6-2 win over No. 5 Hillsdale in the opening round. Straub was equally strong against Gilroy, allowing two runs and striking out six over six innings.

The left-hander’s off-speed pitches had plenty of bite and movement on them, and although he allowed nine hits, he consistently got crucial outs to get out of jams. With Gilroy’s Sergio Sanchez starting Saturday, this was the exact pitching matchup from the last time the two teams played, a 7-2 Gilroy victory in the regular-season finale for both teams May 10.

Unfortunately for the Mustangs, the Christopher bats weren’t about to be stifled this time. John Gonzales, who made a couple of nifty plays defensively at third base, led off with a walk and was sacrificed to second by Travis Romero. JoJo Aguilera followed with a walk before Jack Tomlinson smacked a two-run double.

After Newman was hit by a pitch, Andrew Kachel delivered a run-scoring single to make it 3-0. Christopher’s final three runs were a result of two Gilroy errors and a passed ball. Just like that, the Mustangs were in a 6-0 hole before they came up to bat. Gilroy committed five errors total, leading to three Christopher runs.

The Cougars, meanwhile, were pretty flawless in the field, committing one error late in the contest. Newman had a two-run single in the second, and Romero finished with two RBIs and two hits. Aguilera and Kachel also had two hits apiece. It was an unenviable task for Gilroy, which had already beaten Christopher three times during the league season, including a pair of one-run victories April 19 and 20.

But given the fact both teams are pretty equally matched, it was asking a lot for the Mustangs to knock off the Cougars 4 out of 4 times in the same season.

“We told our guys they were not going to let up because they’re a great ballclub,” Cougars coach Ryan Dequin said. “But we felt prepared and had a lot of energy to start the game strong. In that sense, we had everything going for us.”

When asked if he had ever seen the team more ready to play and pumped up, Dequin said, “Never.” Straub was the winning pitcher of record, unlike the first time he pitched against Gilroy when he was hooked for the loss.

“This time I stayed within myself, made sure to get my pitches across and let the defense back me up,” Straub said. “I was riding the highs and making sure the lows didn’t shake us. I was able to get ahead in the count, and my off-speed pitches were working a lot.”

Gilroy leadoff hitter Diego Hsu went 3 for 4, while Alex Benavides and Richard Perez had two hits apiece. The Mustangs scored their lone runs in the bottom of the first inning, the first coming on Perez’s fielder’s choice and the second on a Max Pierce single. Although the Mustangs had a sour end to their season, they have plenty to be proud of.

Gilroy finished in sole possession of second place in the tough Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division with an 11-7 division record. The Mustangs had a complete bounce back season following a year in which they finished 3-15 in league play. Sanchez and Benavides produced stellar performances throughout the season.

For Christopher, its quest for a CCS title goes on. The Cougars finally got the breakthrough win over their crosstown rivals they desperately wanted. The competitive rivalry between the teams is on par—when it comes to intensity and quality play—with perhaps any in the section.

“At the beginning of the year, I told our guys it would stink if we got swept by Gilroy and still won a CCS championship,” Dequin said. “But now it was, ‘Hey, we get the opportunity to still win CCS and not get swept by Gilroy, and the team did a good job of coming through.”

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