The atmosphere at Huntsinger Park was electric on Friday, May 19, as the Dragons prepared for the first round of the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Division VI playoffs. It was a win-or-go-home situation for both sides, and with their season on the line, the boys’ varsity baseball team went up against the Pioneers of Providence High School.
After seven eventful innings, Foothill was able to win, advancing to the second round of the CIF playoffs for the second time in program history. After grabbing an early lead, the Dragons never looked back and held on to beat the Pioneers with a final score of 4-2.
For both sides, pitch placement and control was an issue in the early stages. Ryan Tamburri ‘17 took the mound for Foothill and struggled slightly with his control, as he walked two batters in the top of the first. However, he was able to rebound, which held the Pioneers off of the scoreboard.
Providence’s starting pitcher had a powerful fastball, which initially stumped the Foothill offense. However, there was a downside to this high velocity: walks. The starting pitcher issued a free pass to Jacob Bridges ‘18, who eventually scored on a sharply-hit single to left field from Spencer Bullock ‘19.
The Dragons took advantage of the control issues even further, as they were able to load the bases with a walk and two base hits. Yet they were unable to extend their 1-0 lead, as the Pioneers were able to limit the damage with an inning-ending strikeout.
Ryan Tamburri wasted no time settling in the second inning, as it appeared his pitch location struggles were behind him. Despite this, he found himself in another jam as two runners reached base. Fortunately, Trey Casswell ‘17 contributed in a big way by picking off the runner in scoring position to record the third out. The Dragons remained patient at the plate in the bottom half of the inning, drawing two more walks. A base hit from Dylan Tamburri ‘17 was sandwiched in between the two walks, presenting a bases-loaded situation, but Foothill was unable to score.
Through the first two innings, the Dragons had left six runners on base.
Providence was set down rather quickly by Ryan Tamburri in the third inning, who recorded his third straight scoreless frame. Unlike the previous innings, however, the Dragons were able to capitalize on the Pioneers’ miscues. Dillon Gallagher ‘19 gave the Dragons the lead in the bottom half of the third inning, as he easily scored on a wild pitch that made its way to the backstop. Following two straight walks, Dylan Tamburri knocked in two runs with a hard-hit double that stretched Foothill’s lead to 4-0.
For the fourth straight inning, Ryan Tamburri kept the Pioneers from scoring, yet it was another stress-filled inning for the Dragons’ pitcher. Tamburri walked a batter and proceeded to allow a single, and the runners moved up to second and third base on a passed ball. With two outs, the next Providence batter sent a fly ball to right field, but it was right in the direction of Winfield White ‘17. White made the catch, preserving the Dragons’ lead. For the first time all game, the Pioneers were able to stymie the Dragons’ offense. Foothill went quietly in the bottom of the fourth with no runners able to reach base.
With their season on the line, Providence attempted to cut into the Dragons’ lead in the fifth inning. They did just that, scoring their first run of the game on a sacrifice fly to left field. Despite this, they still trailed 4-1 to Foothill, who needed only six outs to advance to the second round. The Dragons almost recaptured a four-run lead in the bottom of the inning, but their runner in scoring position was caught stealing.
A pitching change was made in the top of the sixth inning, as Ryan Tamburri was done for the day. Entering the game for the Dragons was Dale Starr ‘17, who was unable to start due to sickness. Yet it made no difference, as Starr retired the side to put another zero on the scoreboard. Starr made an impact on the offensive end as well, leading off the bottom half of the inning with a hard-hit triple. Foothill was unable to score Starr and failed to add to their three run lead.
The Pioneers’ last gasp attempt to score came in the seventh inning. Starr allowed a leadoff walk, and the Providence runner made his way to third base following a groundout and a passed ball. The Dragons’ lead was cut to just two runs when the Pioneers recorded an RBI single, which raised the tension among many anxious fans. However, the tension was quickly dissolved following two straight outs, including a game-ending strikeout from Starr. With their 4-2 win against Providence, Foothill staved off elimination and advanced to the second round of the CIF Division VI playoffs.
For Casswell and the rest of the team, it was hard to not be optimistic after the big win, especially considering the scorching hot Dragons offense over the past month.
“We’re on quite a bit of a win streak right now, so we are pretty excited about that,” Casswell said when referring to the team’s eight straight wins. “Playoffs is either you win or you go home, so we’re hoping to keep winning.”
Head coach Clint Ellison explained that “hard work” is the main reason why the team has cruised into the second round.
“Our philosophy is paying off, just to outwork the competition,” he said. “And the kids are buying in and we are finding success right now.”
Another aspect of the Dragons’ game right now is their patience at the plate. The number of walks drawn over the course of the season has visibly improved and continues to grow. Lindemann explained the hitters’ mindsets at the plate recently, as they continue to focus on “[waiting] for our pitch.”
“We just want to wait back on it, get a good pitch we can hit,” he said. “And if it’s not perfect, then just get another one.”
Lindemann was a prime example of Foothill’s plate discipline in the game, reaching base three times via a free pass while scoring a run.
The Dragons’ next step on their quest for a Division VI championship comes on the road, where they will face the Saints of Santa Maria High School this Tuesday. The Saints won their first round game with a final score of 13-4 against Dunn High School on Friday.
With Tuesday’s game fast approaching, Casswell specified on the keys to earning a second-round victory against Santa Maria.
“We have to come out and score early on in the game,” he said. “An early run really changes how the game is going to be played.”
Foothill’s ace Starr is lined up to take the mound on Tuesday against the Saints. For Ellison, the decision to start Starr stems from his previous success all season long.
“We’ve got to stick with the kind of baseball that’s got us to where we are,” Ellison said.