The Berkeley High baseball team has faced a lot of challenges this season, and so far the Yellowjackets have passed each with flying colors. They beat top-ranked California High and its ace, Adam Brisentine. They dealt Pinole Valley’s Kurt Koehler his first loss in three seasons. They won the ACCAL title and beat Antioch and De La Salle to reach the North Coast Section semifinals.
Berkeley’s next challenge may be their greatest yet: facing second-seeded Clayton Valley today. The Eagles will throw their ace, Adam Elliot, one of the top pitchers in the region. Clayton Valley has given up just one run in their first two NCS games, wins over Arroyo and Foothill, and will have the home-field advantage against the ’Jackets.
Berkeley will counter with junior lefthander Sean Souders, who has been at his best in the toughest matchups this season. He was on the hill against Brisentine and Koehler and outdueled each handily.
“Sean is up and ready,” Berkeley head coach Tim Moellering said Tuesday. “He’s done well in big games so far this year.”
Souders will have an edge on Wednesday, as he hasn’t pitched since the opening round against Antioch a week ago. Elliot, on the other hand, had to throw 2 1/3 innings against Foothill on Saturday, and also threw in a workout for scouts earlier this week. That means all things being equal, Souders should be able to go deeper into the game than his counterpart.
Berkeley is also riding high on offense after scoring 12 and nine runs in the first two rounds of the NCS, respectively. The ’Jackets have been getting production throughout the lineup, with seven-hitter Clinton Calhoun hitting a grand slam against De La Salle on Saturday and Lee Franklin and DeAndre Miller lighting fires at the top of the order.
Cleanup hitter Matt Toma said the ’Jackets won’t change their aggressive hitting style against Elliot, despite the possibility of the Eagle hurler tiring out.
“We’ve heard (Elliot) has very good control, so we can’t sit back and wait for him to get tired,” Toma said. “We just have to jump on our pitches when we get them.”
Moellering said his hitters won’t be intimidated by Elliot’s reputation.
“It helps a lot to have beaten a pitcher like Koehler,” he said. “I don’t think we’re afraid of anyone.”
If the ’Jackets win today, they will move on to the NCS championship on Saturday, to be played at the Oakland Coliseum. While Toma admits that the players can’t help but look forward, as “everyone here wants to play at the Coliseum,” Moellering wants to make sure everyone is focused on today’s game.
“I’m trying to get everyone to concentrate on this one,” he said.
NOTES: The winner of today’s game will face the winner of the Newark Memorial-Grenada semifinal... Berkeley catcher Sam Geaney, who knows Elliot, said the Clayton Valley ace has signed to play at University of Nevada-Las Vegas but is hoping to be drafted by a Major League team... Most of the Berkeley High underclassmen will be taking the SAT on Saturday morning, so Moellering said he will try to get the championship game moved back from noon if the ’Jackets reach the final.