ACCAL race tightens up with one week left; Berkeley can clinch title with win over El Cerrito on Wednesday
By Jared Green
Daily Planet Staff
The Berkeley Yellowjackets had a chance to eliminate one of their toughest foes on Friday, but instead they find themselves right back in the thick of a pennant race.
Eugene Smith’s seventh-inning RBI single gave Encinal High a 6-5 win over the ’Jackets, keeping his team alive in the ACCAL title race. Berkeley dropped to 10-2 in league play (17-5 overall), while the Jets are now 9-3 in the ACCAL (11-11 overall). Both teams have two games left in the regular season. El Cerrito is also 9-3 and faces both teams next week, so the Gauchos will have a large say in who walks away with the title.
Friday’s game started ominously for the ’Jackets, as starting pitcher Cole Stipovich was touched for two homers in the first inning. Encinal’s Willie Stargell Field is flush with the Bay, and the fierce wind blowing out to right field, combined with a short 326-foot porch, spelled trouble for Stipovich. Nick Loy led off with a high fly over the fence, and Smith followed with a shot off of the wall for a double. Up stepped mammoth lefty Cory Dunlap, who after fouling off three two-strike pitches hammered a monster blast over the wall and onto an adjacent apartment building for a quick 3-0 lead.
“I think I blocked out the other times I pitched here,” Stipovich said. “But that was just reality crashing down on top of my head. Watching a pop fly go out was a little discouraging.”
Stipovich settled down, using some defensive help to get through the next two innings without any runs. But Dunlap was looking overpowering on the mound, blowing the ball by the Berkeley hitters. Jason Moore got a run back in the second with a homer to right, his second in as many games, but it took some fielding pratfalls by the Jets to get Berkeley back in the game.
With one out in the fourth, Encinal shortstop Tony Ellis started the Keystone Kops routine when his throw drew first baseman Scott Tennell off the bag. Even worse, it put Tennell right in the baseline in front of Berkeley’s Matt Toma. The 6-foot, 210-pound Toma, a lineman for Berkeley’s football team, lowered his sizable shoulder into the lanky Tennell, and predictably the ball shook loose.
Bennie Goldenberg followed with a single that leftfielder Jordan Indalecio played into a double as Toma came around to score. When Moore hit another single, centerfielder DeAndre Green committed the double sin of booting the ball and then throwing it to an unoccupied first base, with Goldenberg crossing the plate and Moore going all the way to third.
Jeremy LeBeau was up next, and an attempted squeeze bunt clearly went off the batter’s leg into fair territory. But both umpires missed the deflection, and Dunlap held the ball while Moore scored and LeBeau reached first. LeBeau proceeded to score on a stolen base, error and passed ball for a 5-3 Berkeley lead.
Berkeley head coach Tim Moellering knew his team was fortunate to benefit from the Encinal errors, but wanted to see more offense from his club.
“I thought we needed to get more runs,” Moellering said. “We took advantage of some mistakes, but I knew the top of their order was explosive, especially in their own ballpark.”
Even more than the lost lead, Encinal head coach Jim Saunders was concerned with his pitcher’s mental state. Dunlap has displayed a short fuse in the past, and he spent much of the Berkeley rally stomping around the field. But rather than blow up, Dunlap channeled his energy into his pitching, giving up just two more hits the rest of the way.
“(Dunlap) was close (to blowing up),” Saunders said. “There’s something that clicks with him that I can’t stop. Luckily, he stopped it on his own.”
Encinal got a run back in the bottom of the fourth on an Indalecio RBI single, but Moellering went for the kill, bringing in ace Sean Souders for the final three innings. The junior lefthander breezed through the fifth, but the Jets tied the game in the sixth when Mike Jones doubled home Green. They needed just two batters to end the game in the seventh, as Loy led off with a single, and Berkeley leftfielder Jon Smith booted the ball to send him to second. Smith’s single ended the game, setting off a team celebration.
Berkeley can win the league title outright by beating El Cerrito on Wednesday, as they hold a tie-breaker over Encinal. The Gauchos, on the other hand, can win the league if they beat both Berkeley and Encinal. Encinal would win the title if they win on Wednesday and Friday and El Cerrito wins on Wednesday.
Berkeley’s Jason Moore was confident Friday’s loss wouldn’t start a slide similar to last season, when the ’Jackets lost their last four games and nearly missed the North Coast Section playoffs.
“It’s no problem,” Moore said. “We’ll just come back against El Cerrito. As long as we win on Wednesday, we still got it.”