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Yellowjackets ready for another shot at NCS

By Jared Green, Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday May 22, 2002

Souders gets the start against Antioch 

Last year, the Berkeley High baseball team lost its last four regular season games, giving away the ACCAL title and dropping to the 16th and final seed in the North Coast Section playoffs, where they were summarily dismissed by Deer Valley fireballer Dan Denham. Denham is now one of the top pitching prospects in the Cleveland Indians farm system, but this year’s ’Jackets made sure they wouldn’t face any Denham-like forces early in the NCS this season by holding on to win the league championship. 

Berkeley (18-6) was given the No. 6 seed for the upcoming NCS 3A East Bay playoffs and face 11th-seeded Antioch High (14-10) today at Cal’s Evans Diamond, with the first pitch scheduled for 5 p.m. None of the current Berkeley players have won an NCS game, and last year’s finish left a bitter taste in most players’ mouths. 

“I think morale is much higher this year, knowing we don’t have to face Dan Denham,” senior Matt Toma said. “I definitely feel like this year we have a much better chance to move on from the first round.” 

Antioch doesn’t have an ace on the scale of the overpowering Denham (then again, who does?), but the ’Jackets know they’re in for a tough game. 

Much of the ’Jackets’ fortunes rest on the shoulders of junior Sean Souders, who will get the start on the mound against Antioch. The southpaw has become Berkeley’s ace this season, but his last two appearances resulted in losses. He was especially wild in his last start, a 5-4 loss to El Cerrito that put the ACCAL title in jeopardy. Souders said he wasn’t worried about his last start, just the next one. 

“This is the game that has the most meaning to the team,” Souders said. “I’ve been working in the bullpen focusing on throwing first-pitch strikes to get ahead of the hitter. Hopefully that will translate into the game.” 

Berkeley head coach Tim Moellering said he’s not worried about Souders. 

“I see no reason to expect him not to have his usual good stuff,” Moellering said. “One rough start doesn’t mean anything.” 

Moellering has limited knowledge of the Antioch offense, saying “they’re strong from top to bottom,” but he does know that Antioch likes to steal bases. Moellering will try and counter with Sam Geaney behind the plate, since regular starter Jeremy Riesenfeld is still tentative on throws after undergoing two shoulder surgeries last year. 

There was a certain attitude among the Berkeley players at their final practice on Tuesday afternoon, attributable to a perceived lack of respect from the NCS seeding committee and media pundits. The ’Jackets felt they deserved a higher seed after winning the ACCAL title and beating No. 1 California in the preseason. One Bay Area newspaper predicted a tough matchup for Antioch in the second round, all but assuming they would get past Berkeley. This for a team that finished a distant third in the Bay Valley Athletic League. 

“There’s a definite lack of respect coming our way,” Toma said. “The overall leagues out in the valley might be superior to the ACCAL, but in terms of our team’s talent level we should get the same respect as the teams from out there.” 

NOTES: Berkeley had six players named to the All-ACCAL teams, including two first-teamers. Souders and second baseman Lee Franklin were named to the first team, with Toma, outfielder Bennie Goldenberg and infielders DeAndre Miller and Jason Moore named second-teamers... The winner of the Berkeley-Antioch game will face the winner of the Deer Valley-De La Salle first-round matchup.