The Berkeley Yellowjackets scored in each of the first five innings, including a five-run fourth, and cruised to a 12-6 win over Antioch High in the first round of the North Coast Section 3A East Bay playoffs on Wednesday at Cal’s Evans Diamond.
With the win, sixth-seeded Berkeley moves on to play No. 14 De La Salle in the second round on Saturday at Evans Diamond at 5 p.m.
Six Berkeley (19-6) starters had at least two hits on Wednesday, with DeAndre Miller and Matt Toma pounding out three apiece, and the ’Jackets racked up six doubles among their 15 hits, their second-best output of the season. The only spots in the Berkeley lineup not to get a hit were the three and five slots, where Bennie Goldenberg, Jeremy LeBeau and Kory Hong combined to go 0-for-10.
“The one thing we know about our team is that we can hit from top to bottom in the lineup,” Berkeley head coach Tim Moellering said. “You don’t need to look any farther than Jonathon Smith to see that.”
Smith, an occasional starter who missed time due to academic issues this season, got the start in leftfield and rewarded Moellering with two hits and a walk, including a ringing double to left that chased Antioch (14-11) starter Mike Evers and started Berkeley’s fourth-inning rally that put the game out of reach. Frank Roe came on in relief for the Panthers and got two outs, but doubles by Miller and Toma plated two runs. Singles by Jason Moore and Clinton Calhoun, combined with two walks and an Antioch error, extended the rally until Roe was pulled and Andy Nasty got Lee Franklin to fly out to right with the bases loaded.
While the ’Jackets were pounding the ball at the plate, starting pitcher Sean Souders was doing just enough to hold the Panthers down. Souders continued to have the control problems that plagued him in his last two regular-season appearances, but the junior lefthander battled through and walked only one batter in his five innings of work.
“My release point has been inconsistent, but I was able to make the adjustment and get through it,” Souders said. “It’s easier when you’ve got a big lead, because you can just concentrate on throwing strikes.”
Souders did give up six hits, but two double plays turned by his infielders helped him get out of jams. In fact, none of Souders’ three runs were earned, as his own error led to two Antioch runs in the third and a Moore throwaway from shortstop gave the Panthers another in the fifth.
By that point, however, the ’Jackets were up 12-3, and Moellering had the luxury of removing Souders without using No. 2 man Cole Stipovich, who will start on Saturday. With a big lead, Moellering let Andre Sternberg give up three runs in the sixth before sophomore Matt Sylvester came on to finish things in the seventh.
“We had three double plays that really helped our pitchers out,” Moellering said. “We played great defense today and just took care of business.”
Meanwhile, Franklin, Miller and Toma were keying the Berkeley offense.Franklin and Miller got things started in the first inning with back-to-back singles, with an Antioch error moving them to second and third. Franklin scored on a wild pitch before Goldenberg brought in Miller with a sacrifice fly. Then in the following inning Franklin drove in Calhoun and Smith with a double down the leftfield line and Miller just missed hitting the ball out of the deepest part of the park, with Antioch centerfielder Aaron Gauthier making the catch with his back against the fence.
MIller would hit two doubles before being pulled after the fifth inning, giving him three runs scored on the day. He said the offensive outburst wasn’t a surprise to him or his teammates.
“We’re an offensive team, always have been since we were all on JV together,” Miller said. “Now we’ve got the pitching and the defense and we’re putting it all together.”
The ’Jackets won’t get a chance at avenging their loss to Deer Valley in the NCS first round last season, as De La Salle upset the third-seeded Wolverines, 8-7, on Wednesday. But according to Toma, the ’Jacket don’t really care who they face at this point.
“We just have to play good solid ball and we can beat anybody,” the senior slugger said. “I’m just having fun at this point. The pressure’s off for the first time this season.”
With seven senior starters in the field and Stipovich on the hill, the Berkeley High senior prom on Saturday night might cause some worry about the team’s focus on the second-round game. But Moellering considers his seniors to be level-headed.
“With some of the teams in the past that might be an issue,” he said. “But this class is focused all on baseball.”