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Davis topples Elk Grove for D-I North baseball championship

Published: Saturday, May. 24, 2014 - 11:16 pm

They don’t resemble a nationally ranked baseball team with scores of recruits and draft prospects.

But collectively, the Davis Blue Devils compete. And they win. And they’re hardly boring.

In a slice of what still feels like small-town Americana, the home-grown Blue Devils toppled longtime regional powerhouse, chief rival and defending champion Elk Grove 5-2 on Friday night to take the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I North championship at Sacramento City College.

But it wasn’t easy. It never is against the Thundering Herd, Bee-ranked No. 1 all season, state-ranked No. 2 last week by Cal-Hi Sports and nationally ranked No. 12 by MaxPreps with a lineup of players who dot D-I college stationery and regularly draw the attention of major-league scouts. And it’s never easy in the stacked D-I field.

What added to the pressure cooker for Davis (21-11-1) was losing 3-2 in the first game Friday to Elk Grove (26-6), forcing the decisive win-or-go-home finale. Davis was in this same spot two years ago, and it agonized in losing twice to Franklin in the finals.

Ten years ago to the day, Davis beat Elk Grove twice to take the North, so veteran coach Dan Ariola can speak of the wide-ranging emotions this time of season. This title marks the program’s third since 2000 under Ariola, and if there is any omen, it’s a good one. The 2000 and 2004 Davis teams that won the North went on to win the section championship.

“It feels so good, so good,” said a beaming Ariola, who was ejected in the fifth inning of the second game for blaming the plate umpire for an Elk Grove run, though he hustled out to celebrate with his team an hour later. “You feel great for the kids. I’ve seen them work so hard. I’ve seen them grow up over the years. I received so many text messages from players from the 2004 team. They were pulling for us.”

The title was doubly sweet for the Ariola family. Senior leadoff hitter and center fielder John Ariola soaked up the moment with his father, though the old man bear-hugged his winning pitcher Kris Prince first after the junior pitched the game of his young life.

“Kris deserved it more than I did,” young Ariola said, laughing.

Prince was the man of the hour. He had 16 innings and eight appearances to his résumé this season. Friday marked his first start. Nervous? Absolutely. Prince allowed five hits and struck out five, including two in the last inning.

“I woke up this morning and I had a stomachache, nerves, but once the game started, I was fine, and I just hit my spots,” Prince said. “I’m really happy for all these guys. And the offense gave me support.”

Davis loaded the bases in the top of the sixth inning with no outs and pounced. Nate Curtis had a ground-out RBI to drive in Ryan Kreidler for a 2-1 lead, and Jeremy Likes made it 3-1 moments later when he raced in from third on a wild pitch. Kreidler’s double in the seventh scored Brett Bloomfield for a 4-2 lead, and Kreidler scored on a wild pitch for the final margin.

Kreidler, Ariola, Bloomfield, Curtis, Trey Golston and Drew Gnos were among the current Blue Devils who played for a championship Davis Little League team as 9-year olds. They grew up dreaming of high school titles.

“We all live within a couple miles of each other,” coach Ariola said. “It’s a neat thing. Baseball’s special here.”

Davis scraps and claws for everything, but this is no pushover lot. It does have college talent in ace Matt Trask, who will start Friday at Pacific against seven-time D-I South champion St. Mary’s of Stockton. Bloomfield, an infielder-pitcher, is headed to Kansas to play. And Kreidler could emerge as perhaps the program’s most talented player. The sophomore shortstop has range, speed and a good bat, and he has played as well as anyone down the stretch of the season of any that Ariola has mentored in his 20 seasons.

Elk Grove beat Davis two of three games to win the Delta Valley Conference, but the Blue Devils are the last ones standing. They’ll take that deal.

In the parking lot outside Union Stadium, Trask and his father, Michael, approached Elk Grove coach Jeff Carlson, who has won seven North titles since 2002 and five section titles. The Trasks wished Carlson well, and thanked him for bringing the best out of the Blue Devils. Carlson spoke glowingly of his young team, which loses one senior starter in center fielder Derek Hill. And he tipped his hat to the victors.

Said Carlson to Matt Trask, “You guys deserved this. Well done.”

Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.

Read more articles by Joe Davidson

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