Aiden Simeon didn’t know if he was going to be able to play in Tuesday’s CIF Northern California Regional tournament playoff game.
The Christopher High sophomore along with a handful of his teammates got sick in the days after the Cougars won the Central Coast Section Division V playoff championship on May 26. That’s why Tuesday’s lineup was a little different than the one coach Ryan Dequin had for the CCS title game.
The most notable change was at catcher, since starter Diego Enriquez was out. In stepped Simeon, and all he did was throw out two baserunners and go 3-for-4 to help lead No. 4 seed Christopher to a 10-3 home win over No. 5 seed Calaveras in a NorCal Division IV opener.
The Cougars (13-16) advance to play at top seed Colusa (32-0) Thursday at 4pm in the semifinals. Colusa had its hands full with No. 8 seed Branson in the quarterfinals before prevailing, 5-4.
Tough competition lies ahead, but Christopher is trying to make history three months after the girls soccer team won the school’s first-ever CIF Northern California Regional championship. This is the first year the CIF is holding a Northern California Regional tournament for baseball and softball.
“We just need to keep this going for the next two games and we could be NorCal Regional champs,” Simeon said. “That would be pretty crazy considering how we started the season. It’s kind of crazy to be in this situation.”
The Cougars got off to a 2-9 start, but started to hit their stride around the midway point of the league season. Their resilience was on display throughout the stretch run and Tuesday as they knocked around a decent Calaveras team for 14 hits, including two home runs. Calaveras went 14-1 in dominating the Mother Lode League and won the Sac-Joaquin Division IV title.
The Cougars got off to a shaky start, committing two errors in the top of the first inning which led to Calaveras taking a 1-0 lead. However, CHS scored three times in the bottom frame. Eric Cantu hit a leadoff single, Will Anderson walked and Simeon singled to load the bases.
Ricky Wilkerson followed with a two-run single and Jaxen Robinson hit an RBI single to give the Cougars a 3-1 lead they would never relinquish.
Anderson hit a solo home run to dead center leading off the bottom of the third inning, and Mateo Alcantar had a run-scoring single later in the inning to up the team’s lead to 5-1. CHS blew things wide open with a five-run fourth, highlighted by Alcantar’s two-run homer to right field.
What looked to be a semi-deep fly ball kept on going as any ball that got elevated had a chance to leave the ballpark due to the wind. Alcantar had a game-high three RBI, and Anderson had another big game, reaching base in all three of his plate appearances.
The junior first baseman walked, doubled and homered, and scored three times. Batting cleanup, Simeon had two singles, a double and scored three times. The offense was more than enough for Cougars starter Dylan Betancourt, who delivered yet again, allowing two earned runs over five innings.
Nicholas Valentine pitched the sixth and Anderson the seventh to close things out. In the fifth, Betancourt caught a screaming line drive comebacker before throwing to first base for a double play. The play most assuredly prevented a bigger inning as Calaveras had already scored a run in the frame.
“Dylan is our ace for sure and I like when he’s pitching,” Simeon said. “You just feel confident when he’s on the mound.”
The same could be said for when Simeon is behind the plate. Normally the team’s shortstop—where he’s been terrific all season—Simeon played catcher for the first time since mid-March. Simeon said it was either going to be him or Alex Gonzalez and Dequin decided to go with Simeon, which turned out to be a great decision.
Simeon displayed an absolute hose for an arm when he gunned down a Calaveras baserunner attempting to steal second base in the second and then threw out another runner who was leaning too far off the first-base bag in fourth.
“I kind of surprised myself today because I was sick,” Simeon said. “Coach texted me before the game that I should bring my (catching) gear. I’m always ready. Baseball is the only thing I really look forward to now. Baseball is my thing. I get through the school day just so I can come out here and have some fun.”
Simeon admitted it was tough getting the dugout chatter as loud as it was for the CCS championship game. But he said the players do understand the magnitude of the moment and what it would mean if they could bring home a Northern California Regional tournament title. CHS did have a couple of players unable to play against Calaveras due to illness.
“Being a little sick, I couldn’t bring my best energy,” he said. “But Thursday hopefully I’m feeling a little better and the team can get going a little more and get some more energy in the dugout.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]