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June 30, 2022

Christopher baseball team caps improbable CCS title run with dominating finish

The future has arrived for the Christopher High baseball team.

That much was evident after the upstart Cougars dominated Sacred Heart Prep 8-1 in the Central Coast Section Division V championship game May 26 at Excite Ballpark, formerly known as San Jose Municipal Stadium.

Christopher advances to the inaugural CIF NorCal Regional baseball playoffs starting on May 31 (the brackets come out Sunday night). This marks the second CCS championship in program history, the first coming in 2019. 

Unlike that senior-dominated squad, this year’s Christopher team started a freshman on the mound, a freshman catcher, and sophomores in center field, right field, shortstop and third base. High school teams that young typically don’t win section titles, but the Cougars defied the odds by playing their best when it counted the most: at the end of the regular-season and into the postseason. 

“The guys peaked at the right time,” Christopher coach and Athletic Director Ryan Dequin said. “We got some great defense, some timely hitting, our pitching has been on point. Perfect storm for us. Our kids are growing up before our eyes. I never thought we would get here.”

No one did, at least not this year. To win the section title, the No. 8 seed Cougars (11-16) would have to do something they couldn’t during the entire regular-season: win three consecutive games. But they rolled through the playoffs, beating Capuchino 6-1 in the quarterfinals and knocking off Half Moon Bay 5-2 in the semis before steamrolling the No. 6 seed Gators in the final. 

During the regular-season, CHS won back-to-back games just once. But where there’s a will, there’s certainly a way. Junior utility extraordinaire Will Anderson drove in five of the team’s eight runs, and freshman sensation Nicholas Valentine pitched six innings of shutout ball to power the Cougars to victory. 

Anderson made an impact in every phase of the game this season. Primarily a first baseman and the team’s No. 3 hitter in the lineup, Anderson was far and away the team’s most productive bat, entering the title game with a .450 average, 26 RBI and 1.248 OPS. He also went 3-1 with a 2.42 ERA and had 25 strikeouts in 17 innings pitched. 

In three playoff games, Anderson went 7-for-10 and drove in seven runs. The 6-foot, 200-pound junior hit a bases-clearing triple to put CHS up 3-0 in the top of the second inning, and in his next at-bat roped a towering two-run double off the wall in right field to make it 5-0 in the fourth. Anderson also made some stellar defensive plays at first base. 

“Will is a phenomenal player,” Dequin said. “He’s a good sport, he’s got a great attitude, he’s already something special. He’s just been a stud for us.”

As has Valentine, the freshman left-hander who shined under the bright lights. Valentine had a monumental impact in the team’s playoff run. He pitched two innings of shutout relief to close out Capuchino and one scoreless inning of relief against Half Moon Bay leading up to the title contest. 

Then he allowed just two hits against SHP, and, despite six walks, made key pitches to strand several baserunners. Long before the start of the championship game, Dequin shared a nice moment with Valentine on the field.  

“Nic is just a puppy dog, man,” Dequin said. “Before we got here, he couldn’t even talk. I had to bring him out to center field and told him to look at the grandstands and soak it in right now because it’s just a crazy thing for a freshman to do and he stepped up huge.”

Valentine had his fastball working and his secondary pitches were good enough in preventing SHP from scoring off him. The Gators loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the third only to see right fielder Noah Kang make a terrific play as he finished the catch sliding on one knee. 

Leadoff man Eric Cantu had three hits and scored twice, No. 2 hitter Alex Gonzalez drew four walks and Aiden Simeon singled and walked twice. Anderson’s younger brother, Matt, stroked a two-run single to cap a five-run fourth inning. 

Cantu got things started in the frame with a one-out bunt single, Gonzalez walked and both scored on Will Anderson’s aforementioned double off the wall. After Simeon and Ricky Wilkerson drew back to back walks, Will Anderson scored on a wild pitch before Matt Anderson’s two-run single. 

For Will Anderson and his teammates, reality was better than a dream as the final out was recorded. 

“This is almost surreal, it doesn’t feel real right now,” he said. “It’s definitely a dream come true. I’ve been on the varsity ever since my freshman year (2020), and just wanted to win the CCS championship. I’ve been having this dream since I got to high school and now that it’s here, we want to keep going and get another one.”

On both of his hits, Anderson squared up fastballs right in his wheelhouse. 

“I just hunt that pitch and when they mess up and give it to me right down the middle, I make it hurt,” he said. 

Anderson added the team started to find its rhythm and chemistry in the final two weeks of the league season when the schedule called for three games over a span of five days in both weeks. In that crucial stretch, they won two games by one run and lost to a strong Palma team, 2-0. 

“That’s when we really started to kick it into overdrive,” he said. “We started working better together and our chemistry improved. Those down to the wire games really drove us to stay together and that’s what really made us unified up until now.”

The Cougars are a year ahead of schedule, because next season they’ll be more experienced and assuming the returning players work hard and improve in the off-season, they’ll be a year better, not just a year older.

If everyone follows Will Anderson’s work ethic, there’s no doubt the Cougars will come back stronger than ever for 2023. Asked what the key was to his season, Anderson didn’t flinch. 

“Just work, on and off the field,” he said. “If it was a long practice or long day, I’d still come home and work a little more because at the end of the day it’s those reps you do when no one’s looking that will help you get to where you want to be.”

The Christopher High baseball players celebrate their 8-1 CCS title victory at Excite Ballpark. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Freshman Nicholas Valentine delivered 6 shutout innings to help power the Cougars to victory. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.
Cougars senior Eric Cantu prepares to make a nice backhand grab on a grounder before throwing to first base for the out in a 8-1 win over Sacred Heart Prep in the Central Coast Section Division V championship game. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]

Emanuel Lee
Sports Editor of the Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Free Lance and Morgan Hill Times. PR of 3:13.40 at the 2019 CIM. Hebrews 12:1.

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