Profound relief and pride.
Those emotions engulfed the Elk Grove High School baseball team late Friday afternoon, and then there was a sudden sense of invited urgency, of one more hurdle to climb to officially cap a championship season.
The Thundering Herd rallied for three runs in the fifth inning to dethrone defending champion Franklin 4-2 to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I North crown at Sacramento City College.
Elk Grove, ranked second by The Bee, will make room in the school trophy case in the coming days to insert the program's seventh D-I North title plaque since 2002 under tireless coach Jeff Carlson.
The achievement thrusts the Thundering Herd (27-5) into the best-of-three D-I title series against three-time defending champion St. Mary's of Stockton starting Friday at Sac City. St. Mary's beat Elk Grove for the title three seasons ago when Herd cornerstones Dom Nunez and Rowdy Tellez were freshman contributors.
St. Mary's coach Pete Pijl was in the stands Friday, jotting down notes. His team surely wants a piece of the Herd after Elk Grove, ranked fourth in Northern California by MaxPreps, rolled the Rams 10-1 in a nonleague game on March 12.
"We're not satisfied yet," said Tellez, a senior slugger who was intentionally walked twice by Franklin. "It's a weight off our shoulders to win this, but we want to win next week. And they want us, too. It's going to be fun. Can't wait."
Elk Grove lost to Davis 3-2 on the final day of the Delta Valley Conference season, giving the Blue Devils the conference title. The Herd hasn't tasted defeat since. Elk Grove is 5-0 in the playoffs, including two victories over Franklin and a 5-0 win over Pleasant Grove on Tuesday.
Elk Grove beat Franklin in every meeting this season, and it's always a spirited show when these programs face off. There was another large crowd on hand Friday, soaking up the sun, the breeze and the talent that was assembled. Players embraced afterward in a good show of sportsmanship.
"It's hard to beat a team five times," Carlson said. "Very proud of these guys. They put a lot of work into this."
Carlson said he was especially pleased for his senior leaders, Nunez, Tellez, ace David Smith and Mikey Wright, who plays third base and is the team's No. 2 pitcher. Wright struck out six Friday in a complete-game effort to improve to 6-0 this season.
"The day Mikey signed that letter of intent with San Jose State recently, I just felt so good for the kid," Carlson said. "He just went out and performed. He battled adversity and got it done."
Franklin (18-15) was superb in this postseason run after placing third in the DVC behind Davis and Elk Grove. The Wildcats became the first team not ranked by The Bee to reach the North finals. In the postseason, they eliminated Rodriguez of Fairfield 13-0, Bee No. 3 Oak Ridge 4-1, top-ranked Davis 12-3 and No. 4 Pleasant Grove 6-1.
Pitching was a staple, and there was solid pitching again Friday, but two bases-loaded walks in the fifth with Wright and then Ty Madrigal provided the Herd its final two runs.
Third baseman Nick Madrigal ended the game with a running, reaching catch in shallow left, prompting the customary dog-pile scene at the mound.
"This is what we live for," Nunez said, all grins.
At Sacramento City College
Division II: Del Campo vs. Benicia, 6 p.m.
Division III: Colfax vs. Yuba City, 3 p.m.
Division VII: Valley Chr. vs. Brookside Chr.-Stockton, noon
At Tony Zupo Field, Lodi
Division IV: Oakdale vs. Central Catholic-Modesto, 6 p.m.
Division V: Escalon vs. Capital Christian, 3 p.m.
Division VI: Bradshaw Christian vs. Mariposa, noon