A tough ending couldn’t put too much of a damper on the Christopher High baseball team’s season.
Despite a gut-wrenching 2-1 loss to top-seed Colusa High in the CIF Northern California Regional Division IV playoff semifinals Thursday, the No. 4 seed Cougars (13-17) could hold their heads high for what they achieved in 2022.
That included the program’s second Central Coast Section championship and in the process laying the groundwork for what could be a great 2023 season. Christopher graduates just two starters off this year’s CCS title winning squad; in most years, teams graduate a half-dozen or more starters.
“Next year is going to be even better with the amount of kids coming back,” Cougars coach Ryan Dequin said.
That includes lefty Nicholas Valentine, brothers Will and Matt Anderson, and shortstop Aiden Simeon, just to name a few. Valentine had a tremendous freshman season and capped it off with another strong outing against Colusa, pitching 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball.
Valentine got better as the season went along, and he showed a maturity and confidence on the mound that belied his age.
“Nic Valentine has the ability to be an ace as well,” Dequin said. “He’s got a great changeup and is only going to get stronger and more mentally tough. He learned how to pitch into Hollister, Palma, Salinas. He’s got all that experience a freshman can ever ask for and he’s going into a league not as strong up and down but already has all that experience. He’s only going to get better.”
Another freshman, Matt Anderson, displayed big-time potential in the limited innings he pitched early in the season before having to shut things down. If Anderson gets healthy, the Cougars will have a terrific 1-2 punch of Valentine and Anderson, and possibly another pitcher who could emerge with shutdown stuff.
Matt Anderson is listed at 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, and he’s still growing.
“Matt has the potential to do that absolutely,” Dequin said, when asked about emerging as an ace-type pitcher next year. “For precautionary reasons, he had to shut down pitching this season. He’s still growing. He’s a big boy and his body is going to catch up to him. He’s been doing rehab for a couple of months, an extended throwing program and he’s on track to start again.”
Matt will be a sophomore next year and Will a senior. Next season, the older Anderson could vie for MVP honors in the Blossom Valley League Mount Hamilton Division, the league Christopher will be playing in next year.
Simeon will be a junior next season and had a breakout 2022 campaign, displaying Gold Glove-type defense at shortstop and producing some big games offensively.
“It’ll be much easier next year to hit the ground running,” Dequin said. “We basically came out of two years of not playing and we had to teach the kids how to play high school baseball.”
CHS lost to Colusa with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. The undefeated Redhawks (33-0) had the bases loaded with two outs when one of their hitters lofted a pop-fly to shallow center field that a CHS player dropped for an error to allow the winning run to score.
“It’s a tough way to lose and frustrating when you lose like that,” Dequin said. “It’s one miscue and it happens. When you play long enough, you understand these things happen and it’s part of the game. The wind was blowing super hard and they scored on a dropped pop fly. It is what it is.”
The Cougars were down to their last out in the top of the seventh inning when Mateo Alcantar scored on a passed ball to make it 1-1.
“I thought once we scored that run, we would continue with it and had the momentum,” Dequin said. “I knew they would have to bring in a new pitcher, and their No. 1 threw 110 pitches on Tuesday so he was not available. So it was looking good for us.”
Alas, Colusa escaped with a run in the bottom half of the frame to advance to Saturday’s Division IV championship game against No. 2 seed Bradshaw Christian of Sacramento.
“We told the guys they couldn’t hang their heads,” Dequin said. “When it’s all said and done, we were CCS champions. Just be ready and go out and do what they need to do in the summer (to improve). Things are looking good. We’ve got some kids coming up from the lower levels and a bunch of varsity guys coming back with an extra year of experience and maturity.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]