Ukiah playoff magic carries Wildcats past Casa Grande in NCS title game
For the first time in over a decade, the Ukiah High baseball team will be playing for a division title.
The Wildcats’ playoff run at Cinderella continued on Wednesday as they beat host Casa Grande 5-4 in the North Coast Section Division 2 playoff semifinals. With the win, the ninth-seeded Wildcats (19-9) will make their first appearance in a Division Championship game since 2007 and look to win the program’s first Division title in school history.
No. 3 seed Petaluma (21-8) stands in their way, the Vine Valley Athletic League champions. The Trojans beat No.7 seed Redwood 5-2 in their semi-final on Wednesday and will also be looking to make history. Petaluma last won a section title in 1980 and last appeared in a section title match in 1998.
The Division 2 title game is at Petaluma High School on Saturday at 1 p.m.
In Wednesday’s semi-final, Ukiah senior Jace Pullins added his name to Ukiah’s growing list of post-season heroes, breaking a 4-4 tie in the top of the seventh with an RBI single to one out. to score the winning point.
“As I walked, I was like, ‘Well, let’s not line up twice more,'” recalls the senior infielder, whose hit in the seventh was only his second hit of the playoffs . “I had two lineouts this game, but that shot was awesome. My whole plan was to just drop the ball and score the point.
Senior Caleb Ford then closed out the fourth-seeded Gauchos (19-9) with a perfect seventh. Ford was in relief from starter Luke Schat – who struck out four and allowed seven hits and an earned run in 4⅔ innings but went off in a 4-4 ball game – allowing a single base runner over 2⅓ innings with a strikeout to win.
“In the seventh, we knew we had to hit, and that’s how we win a ball game right there,” Ford said. “Jace got in on that left base hit, scoring, got us excited, and we knew we had momentum late in the seventh and we knew we could shut it down and get the job done.”
Ford’s emergency exit was key to securing victory. Before entering the fifth, Casa Grande had stormed in to tie the game at 4-4 with three straight two-out singles. The Gauchos were down 4-2 at the start of the round.
Sophomore Austin Steeves, who went 3 for 4 with an RBI, lined up a shot through the center to tag Kaden Ramirez to make it 4-3 before Dylan Petersen, who went 1 for 3 with two RBI, scored Steeves from second on a ball on the ground to the right to equalize at 4-4.
Casa Grande senior pitcher Russell Freedheim also played a key role in the comeback. He replaced starter Nick Tobin facing a 3-1 no-out deficit in the second but finished the game with four hits, one run and five strikeouts in six innings of relief.
The two teams traded scoreless frames in the sixth before the Wildcats made their final push to open the seventh. Kessler Koch, who scored a two-run brace in the first to help Ukiah open a 3-0 lead, was hit by a one-out pitch and then came second when Canyon Loflin hit an error in the field .
The next batter was Pullins, who sent the first pitch he saw into left field to bring Koch up.
“We hit the right ground at the right time,” Ukiah head coach Aaron Ford said. “It’s just the game.”
During these playoffs, Ukiah had three one-point upsets on the road. He beat No. 8 seed Vintage 1-0 behind a three-hit shutout from Schat in Game 1 before beating No. 1 seed Marin Catholic 1-0 last Saturday in the quarterfinals with a shutout in four hits by Austin Ford.
It was a memorable run, to say the least, for this scrappy group who finished third in the North Bay League-Oak.
“I’m really super proud,” said Aaron Ford. “I’m surprised I’m not crying like it’s Saturday. I was, I mean, I was bawling, because these guys worked hard and most of the time you don’t see that work, you don’t appreciate it, but I do because I asked them to compete, and I asked them to do their job and they are faithful children.
“It’s a humbling experience to be in right now.”
Asked about their remarkable playoff run, Pullins said, “We are the underdogs. No one respects Ukiah, we’re a bunch of blue collar baseball players I guess. Nobody respects us, so we have to earn our respect.
“No one is even talking about Ukiah, but they will be talking about us soon.”
Yesou can contact editor Gus Morris at 707-304-9372 or [email protected] On Twitter @JustGusPD.