By Derek Wilson
Branson’s entire season came down to one swing of the bat Saturday in the North Coast Section Division 5 baseball championship.
With the score tied, 3-3, against fifth-seeded Athenian, Bulls junior Will Jacobsen launched a hit to right field that scored sophomore Andrew Ashley to give the No. 2 Bulls a 4-3 victory.
“I feel like the season played out in one game,” Branson senior ace Alec Ritch said after the team celebrated with the NCS pennant. “This game had its ups and downs. We started this season hot, just like this game, then we made some mistakes that they capitalized on.”
Ritch went all seven innings, striking out five batters and allowing seven hits to get the win.
“It was a back and forth game with a lot of drama,” Branson coach Brian Pollzie said. “After that big swing by Jacobsen, it was great to see the smiles on all their faces.”
Branson struck first with back-to-back singles by Will Vostrejs and Leo Jacoby in the bottom of the second. Lukas Prongos followed with an RBI-single up the third base line to give the Bulls a 1-0 lead.
Athenian took advantage of mistakes by the Bulls in the third inning to even the score. The Owls were thrilled in the top of the fourth inning when Jaden Dhaliwal launched a home run over the left field and almost on to Miller Avenue for a 2-1 lead.
The Bulls came right back in the bottom of the fourth, inspired again by the bottom of the order. Two singles and a walk loaded the bases before Adam Ramirez came to the plate. He grounded the ball back toward the pitcher, who then threw out the runner coming to the plate. The catcher’s throw to first to try to beat Ramirez for a double play went wild, allowing two runners to score and Ramirez to reach second base. Branson finished the inning with a 3-2 lead.
Athenian again tied the score in the top of the sixth inning when Dhaliwal scored on a sacrifice bunt.
The Bulls held Athenian scoreless in the top of the seventh inning, then it was Branson’s last chance before the game could go extra innings.
Ashley led off the bottom of the seventh inning with a double to center field that drove the Athenian pitcher from the mound. Jacobsen then followed with a hit to right-center field. Ashley sped around the bases so fast that the Athenian coaches argued he failed to touch third base on his way to home plate. Their argument did no good, however, and the Bulls rushed the field to celebrate.
“I hope everyone realizes how special this is,” said Ritch, one of six seniors on the roster.
San Marin celebrated its stellar victory to overcome the odds — and Campolindo — to capture its first NCS championship since 2011. The Mustangs cruised past No. 2 Campolindo (15-11) on their way to an 8-0 victory at Saint Mary’s College on Saturday.
The No. 9 Mustangs (17-11-1) opened the playoffs with a one-run victory over No. 8 Analy. San Marin then ousted top seed Miramonte, 6-4, in the quarterfinals and No. 5 Bishop O’Dowd, 7-4, in the semifinals.
The normally hard-hitting Drake Pirates (22-7) fell 1-0 to top-seeded Alameda (26-2-1) in the May 30 NCS semifinal. The Pirates got just three hits from Eamonn Lance, Eric Woodrow and Isaac Friedenberg.