Page One

Clayton Valley ends ’Jackets’ NCS run

By Jared Green Daily Planet Staff
Thursday May 30, 2002

A boatload of errors and a hot Clayton Valley High pitching staff ended the Berkeley Yellowjackets’ season on Wednesday in Concord, as the Eagles scored seven runs in the final two innings to blow open a close game for a 10-1 win in a North Coast Section 3A East Bay semifinal game. 

With the win, Clayton Valley (22-5) moved on to play Newark Memorial in the championship game on Saturday at the Oakland Coliseum. 

The ’Jackets (20-7) got a surprise when Clayton Valley head coach Bob Ralston decided to go with Joe Staber as his starting pitcher, rather than ace Adam Elliot as expected. But Staber proved to be effective against the Berkeley bats, going 3 1/3 innings with only three hits and an unearned run. He mixed a deceptively quick fastball with a sharp curve that had the Berkeley hitters flailing in the dirt. 

“Elliot threw 10 innings last week, including 2 2/3 on Saturday,” Ralston said. “Our other pitchers have done a great job for us, and Staber earned the opportunity to start. He got the chance, and he produced for us.” 

But with a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning and a Berkeley run already in on Benny Goldenberg single and a Clayton Valley error, Ralston didn’t hesitate to go to Elliot, who immediately picked Jeremy LeBeau off of first base, then set down seven of the next eight Berkeley hitters, with DeAndre Miller’s walk in the fifth the only blemish. 

While Staber and Elliot were breaking down the Berkeley offense, the Berkeley defense was throwing the game away. Shortstop Jason Moore, usually a slick fielder, had a nightmarish day with five errors that contributed to four Eagle runs. Starting pitcher Sean Souders didn’t help his own cause, throwing away two pickoff attempts. The poor effort in the field looked even worse contrasted with the nearly spotless Clayton Valley defense, which committed just the one error in the fourth inning. 

“It’s not like (Clayton Valley) just jumped out and pummelled the ball,” Berkeley’s Matt Toma said. “We gave them some chances, and they ended up taking advantage.” 

It didn’t help matters that Souders left after five innings due to a high pitch count. The junior lefty only gave up three runs, just one of them earned, but struggled with his control and had runners on the bases in every inning. 

With Souders out and facing a 3-1 deficit, Berkeley head coach Tim Moellering decided to go with sophomore Matt Sylvester. With No. 2 starter Cole Stipovich having thrown a complete game against De La Salle on Saturday and a possible championship game to worry about, Moellering went with the youngster and it cost him. 

The inning started innocently enough, with Moore throwing away a grounder to let nine-hitter Chris Proehl reach base. But Jeff Landry followed with a booming triple off the centerfield wall, then Matt Reed roped a double down the leftfield line. Sylvester walked Elliot before letting Sam Ray single up the middle, and the hurler was lifted without getting an out. Ethan Friedman came on to stop the bleeding, but the damage was done. With Elliot on the mound and a five-run lead, the Eagles’ road to the championship game was all but completed. 

Elliot set down the ’Jackets in order in the bottom of the sixth, then the Eagles used four singles, three Berkeley errors and a walk to score four more runs to put the game out of reach. Ralston was able to save Elliot’s arm for Saturday and send Jimmy Gilbert to the mound in the seventh to finish off the ’Jackets. He did so in quick fashion, getting two groundouts and a strikeout. 

Despite the late fireworks, Moellering said it was an earlier miscue that turned the momentum against his team. Trailing 2-1 in the top of the fifth, Souders walked Elliot to start the inning. After an errant pickoff throw sent the Clayton Valley star to second base, Moellering called for a pickoff play, but it was never attempted. Elliot ended up scoring on a Chris Salmon single, putting the ’Jackets down 3-1. 

“It just got worse from that point on,” Moellering said. “Instead of trying to squeeze across one run to tie the game, we had to start thinking about stringing together some hits to get a big innings. That just didn’t happen.” 

Indeed, Moellering’s team managed just four hits in the game, none in the final three innings. Other than Goldenberg’s run, only one Berkeley player made it as far as third base, as Miller stole two bases after his walk. After suffering just two strikeouts in their first two NCS games, the ’Jackets went down six times against Clayton Valley, which has given up just two runs in the playoffs after winning the Bay Valley Athletic League title. 

“I was just concerned about our pitching holding (Berkeley) down,” Ralston said. “Our defense and pitching really came through for us.” 

While the ’Jackets were in an understandably foul mood after the game, Moellering said the season has to be considered a success for a team that most didn’t expect to make the playoffs, much less make it to the semifinals. 

“I’m happy with the season, and I’m think after the players get a day or two to think about it, they will be too,” Moellering said.