CCS baseball playoffs: Branham wins classic pitcher’s duel, advances to D-III final
SANTA CLARA — Nolan Rodriguez broke up a classic pitcher’s duel when he doubled to right field in the bottom of the seventh to score Keaton Cooper from first base. The knock gave Branham a 2-1 win over Sacred Heart Prep in a Central Coast Section Division III semifinal game at Mission College.
Branham (22-7) advances to play Carmel on Saturday for the CCS championship in a 4 p.m. start at Excite Ballpark.
“I went up there just trying to go up the middle to get on base,” said Rodriguez, who also tripled and scored Branham’s first run in the third inning. “All that changed when I got a strike on a check swing and then looked at one down the middle. I didn’t like that. So then I swung and I was a little late, but it landed fair for a double. I was so lucky. And my boy Keaton was on base already and he made the best read I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Cooper led off the bottom of the seventh with a single that glanced off the glove of SHP freshman hurler Rallin Covey, who went pitch for pitch with Branham ace Evan Williams.
Branham scored first in the third inning when Rodriguez led off with his triple to center. Covey struck out the next two batters before Rodriguez scored when Matt Garcia beat out a grounder to third.
Sacred Heart Prep tied it in the top of the sixth without the benefit of a base hit. Tyler Wong reached first after being hit by a pitch. He stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a sacrifice fly to right hit by Daniel Gee.
Williams went all seven innings for the Bruins, allowing five hits, walking two and striking out seven. He also had two hits in three at-bats and stole a base. He is now 13-2 on the season to go along with a .364 batting average..
“He’s been our guy all year,” Branham coach Tony Pianto said. “He comes out and competes every opportunity he gets. He plays the game one way, that’s with everything. It’s unbelievable what he’s accomplished this year.”
Sacred Heart Prep (20-8-1) got this far on the strength of young pitching. The Gators pitched their ace, sophomore Devin Saltzgaber (12-0), in a quarterfinal win over Carlmont. Covey allowed five hits in his six innings of work, walked two and struck out four.
“He showed great composure,” SHP coach Sean McMillan said. “It’s something we worked on all year and it’s really cool to see it come to fruition. He’s grown four inches since the start of the year. Get him in the gym, get him on a routine and he’ll be good to go.”
Saltzgaber and Andrew Rocha had two hits apiece for SHP.
Branham advanced to the CCS Division II playoffs last year, beat Hollister and Wilcox before losing to Mitty in the final. That experience has helped create some powerful motivation for a different result in the return trip to the championship game.
“Last year most of us were juniors and we came up short in the championship game,” Williams said. “We really want it this year.”
“We’re so hyped, we’re so ready,” Rodriguez said. “This year we’re winning it.”