The fastest way for a young baseball team to gain experience is to be exposed to challenging competition.
Facing the region’s toughest nonconference schedule, not to mention playing in the Delta Valley Conference that features four of The Bee’s top five teams, No. 1 Elk Grove High School has responded admirably.
The Thundering Herd won the prestigious Boras Baseball Classic North Division by beating two nationally ranked teams. Elk Grove topped Buchanan of Clovis 3-1 in the semifinals Wednesday behind junior ace Chris Martin’s four-hitter, and the Herd edged NorCal No. 1 St. Francis of Mountain View 2-1 in Thursday’s finale at McAuliffe Memorial Ballparks.
Elk Grove will play Boras South Division champion Temecula Valley for the overall title May 3 at Pacific.
In avenging an early-season 2-1 loss to St. Francis, Elk Grove found it has depth in emerging pitchers Dustin Jack and Cody Barnes, who combined to shut down the Lancers of the Central Coast Section. The Herd won the final two games without its best player and lone full-time senior starter, Derek Hill. A projected high draft pick in the June draft, the center fielder was sidelined with leg cramps.
“Awesome week,” Elk Grove coach Jeff Carlson said. “We’re really excited. Dustin Jack has a lot of potential and Cody Barnes, too. We had a stretch of games where we had to get others in there. And James Santos did a great job in center field in place of Hill. Chris Martin competes, and we need that.”
PG rating – Pleasant Grove moved up to No. 2 in The Bee rankings after a strong showing in the Boras Classic, including wins over previous No. 1 Davis 7-3, Bay Area power De La Salle 1-0 and Buchanan 10-3. The only loss was a 3-2 decision against St. Francis, which scored all of its runs in the bottom of the seventh inning. Matt Stafford, Dalton Gomez, Jordan Yu and Brett Elgin pitched well for the Eagles, who, along with No. 7 Oak Ridge and No. 14 Jesuit, target a Delta River League title.
Wolves uprising – No. 10 Woodcreek won the Rally Factory Spring Break Classic by beating Folsom 9-4, No. 13 Oakmont 8-0 and No. 11 Vista del Lago 8-2. Against Vista, Brennan Spezia had three RBIs, and John Cooper struck out nine. Spezia struck out eight and allowed two hits to beat Oakmont.
Woodcreek plays Sierra Foothill League rival and No. 6 Granite Bay in a three-game series this week. Granite Bay has a 4-3 win over Pleasant Grove and two wins over Oak Ridge, including a 2-1 effort in the Boras Classic behind pitchers Ryan Brown and Nick Frank.
Jesuit rebounds – Jesuit recovered from two 3-0 losses to Folsom and a 2-1setback to Ponderosa in Delta River League play to win the Woodland Easter Classic with wins over Inderkum 8-3, Bradshaw Christian 10-0, Whitney 2-1 and Woodland 7-1. Tanner Dodson tossed a one-hitter to beat the Wolves in the final at revamped Clark Field.
Wildcats travel – No. 4 Franklin went 3-1 in the Fresno Easter Classic, losing only to Frontier of Bakersfield 11-8. Damien Chavez had five RBIs and Isaiah Engman tossed a three-hitter in a 10-0 victory over Madera, and Cameron Keup tossed his fourth complete game of the season to beat San Joaquin Memorial 4-1.
Second-ranked Sheldon plays at No. 3 Pleasant Grove on Tuesday at 4 p.m. in a Delta River League showdown. The Eagles are led by Vanessa Washington (.429, nine home runs, 28 RBIs) and pitcher Celina Matthias, who plans to sign a letter of intent with Sacramento State before the game. Sheldon is led by infieldersAnessa Kaylor (.564, five homers, 25 RBIs) and Zamari Hinton (.587)
Pleasant Grove plays No. 9 Ponderosa on Thursday.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.