The wheels buckled a bit here and there, but they never came off.
Franklin High School overcame a slow start to this baseball season, dodged pitfalls and potholes during a bumpy regular season amid injuries and stout competition, and capped it Friday night with a slice of school history.
The Wildcats beat Delta Valley Conference rival Davis 3-2 to win their first Sac-Joaquin Section Division I North championship at Sacramento City College in Candlestick Park-like chilly conditions.
Davis stunned Franklin 5-3 earlier Friday on a Chris Gnos two-run triple in the bottom of the sixth inning to force the deciding game. Gnos had a chance to repeat his effort with two outs and two on in the bottom of the seventh in the clincher, but he went down looking on a Kyle Von Ruden strikeout, eliciting a celebration months in the making.
True to form, Franklin's team bus had a blowout on the way home from a 6-2 outbracket win over Vintage of Napa to open this tournament, a complete-game effort for Von Ruden, and sat stranded on the freeway for two hours. On Tuesday, Franklin beat Davis 8-6 in eight innings in a winners' bracket final, and Wildcats first-year coach Bryan Kilby found his pickup with a flat in the parking lot.
On Friday, in Game 2, no such detours and no flats later.
"It's been an interesting road, but it's been a fun road," Kilby said. "I'm so happy for these kids and these coaches. We played two great games here today. Every game with Davis is like this. We wanted to put the ball in our seniors' hands and let them decide it."
Decide it they did. Brandon Keup allowed five hits and struck out four. The Franklin juniors also had big moments, including Tyler Blake, whose RBI single in the third put Franklin up 2-1. Catcher Nick Frei had an RBI single to make it 3-1. Freshman shortstop Hank LoForte threw out a runner at third base to end the sixth with that 3-2 lead.
Von Ruden, the senior leader, came on in relief in the sixth.
"What can you say about Von Ruden a super kid, a great student," Kilby said. "And Hank LoForte plays beyond his years. His baseball IQ is unbelievable. You can tell he's a coach's kid."
Now, LoForte and the gang want what LoForte's father has. Brian LoForte coached McClatchy to the 1998 section D-I title, beating freshly drafted first-round pick C.C. Sabathia and Vallejo.
Franklin plays two-time defending D-I champion St. Mary's of Stockton in Game 1 of the best-of-three series on Friday at Pacific.
Davis, meanwhile, concludes a trying season that included a DVC championship and a spirited run in this postseason.
Blue Devils coach Dan Ariola offered a lot of hugs for departing seniors such as ace Ben Eckels and leader George Hatamiya, the catcher and scholar who played gallantly despite losing his mother, Nancy, to cancer last week.
Hatamiya earned the win in relief in the first game Friday and tossed three more solid innings in the nightcap.