After the long baseball season, it comes down to two days to decide the champion.
Elk Grove High School, ranked third in Northern California by MaxPreps, takes on No. 9 St. Mary's of Stockton on Friday night in the opener of the best-of-three Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship series at Sacramento City College.
Being in the championship is nothing new for these two schools.
If St. Mary's wins, the Rams will become the first large-school program in the section to win four consecutive titles. The Thundering Herd is going for its seventh championship. One or both have played in the championship series 10 times since 2002, combining to win seven titles.
Under coach Jeff Carlson, Elk Grove became the first D-I program to three-peat when it swept the Rams in 2007. St. Mary's started its three-peat run with a sweep of the Herd in 2010.
The teams have played each other once this season, with Elk Grove (27-5) routing the Rams (20-12) 10-1 in a March 12 nonleague game in Stockton. Junior center fielder Derek Hill drove in four runs and and Mikey Wright allowed just one hit in six innings for Elk Grove.
But that game doesn't mean much now, coaches and players said.
"We don't take much from it," Carlson said. "We played well that day, and St. Mary's is a totally different team now. Every game's different. (Friday night's) game will be different than Saturday. You take one game at a time, respect your opponent and worry about yourself."
St. Mary's has won nine consecutive games, while Elk Grove has won nine of 10. The teams are a combined 9-0 in the postseason.
"We're glad to be here," said Wright, one of four Herd seniors, along with ace David Smith, catcher Dom Nunez and slugger Rowdy Tellez. "We're playing well. We wanted to play St. Mary's, and we heard they wanted revenge against us."
Smith (11-2) will start for the Herd on Friday night, likely against Rams ace Joe Caffese (10-3).
Elk Grove is led by Tellez, a four-year starter and the all-time Northern California RBI leader with 170. Tellez is batting .463 with 14 doubles, eight home runs and 40 RBIs. Nunez, another four-year starter, is hitting .424, and Hill is batting .384. Sophomores Nick Madrigal and Carlos Moseley are hitting .383 and .321, respectively.
St. Mary's is led by junior Jed Sprague, son of retired major leaguer Ed Sprague, the coach at Pacific. Sprague has 36 RBIs.
"It's fun to have a shot at this," said Nunez, whose team lost to the Rams in the title series when he was a freshman. "It's hard to get there. You appreciate getting there, but we're not satisfied yet."