Dan Ariola pulled out a jumble of keys and thumbed through the mess.
He needed access to a storage shed that houses lawn equipment. Ariola, the longtime Davis High School baseball coach, loves his home field groomed. Clover irritates him the way traffic galls a truck driver on a delivery deadline. If you’re going to play the part of champion, Ariola explained, then why not look the part?
“I feel like a farmer,” Ariola said. “Every day, we’re out here. Mow it, rake it, care for it. The kids are great. They all get involved. And you have to push-start the mower, four guys. But it all works.”
Just like the baseball team.
The Blue Devils beat Elk Grove, The Bee’s top-ranked team and their top rivals, on Friday to win the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I North championship. It was a big win for Ariola, who grew up in Davis, coaches his son John – the senior leadoff hitter and center fielder – and appreciates what it takes to mold a team and turn it loose.
It was Ariola’s third North title but the first in the past 10 seasons. Davis (20-12-1) now seeks its third Division I section title. Game 1 of the best-of-three title series against St. Mary’s of Stockton (21-13) is Friday at Pacific.
Ariola surveyed his home digs Tuesday afternoon, lost in reflection. Where did the time go?
“My 40th season on these fields,” Ariola said. “Played 13-year-old Babe Ruth ball over there. High school ball, coaching, lots of great memories, and it takes a toll. It’s a grind and I’m feeling it this year.”
Though Ariola looks and sounds fatigued, he said it’s worth it when the team is still playing at this point in the season. He was ejected twice in the playoffs for arguing with the plate umpire, something out of character for a coach known for his good nature, but it’s not every year he gets to coach such a group of seniors, including his son.
The team includes bright students who take honors classes and are gifted in music. And they compete in baseball with fierce intensity, sometimes surprising girlfriends or parents. Emotional leader Brett Bloomfield explained: “You could tear your labrum or rotator cuff by making a throw, so everything counts.”
John Ariola sings in the shower every morning, but no one covers their ears. Gifted in choir, he’s performed in New York and Davis this spring. Said Ariola, who’s batting .388: “I lose sleep before big baseball games because I’m so excited, but singing is a different kind of nervousness. I love both.”
Third baseman Trey Golston, who plays the piano, is off to San Diego State in the fall. He concedes that his baseball days are likely done. “That’s why this is special this season,” he said.
Bloomfield, a senior infielder and pitcher who is hitting .347, is the player most likely to address the team, in a heated state or otherwise, or head up a fundraiser. His father, Tony Bloomfield, is the longtime baseball coach at Cosumnes River College, and Brett, headed to Kansas to play baseball and study kinesiology, said coaching is his life path. “I’ll die a happy guy doing this,” he said.
Staff ace Matt Trask (5-1), who plans to attend UCLA on a scholarship and may be drafted next month, pitched six innings of no-hit ball. Golston completed the no-hitter and earned the save in a 6-1 victory over Rocklin in the Division I North playoffs. Trask also is batting .356.
Sophomore shortstop Ryan Kreidler may become the best player in program history, his coach said. The 6-foot-2 Kreidler, who is hitting .433, has a scholarship offer from UCLA and strong interest from other Pacific-12 Conference schools such as Cal and Stanford.
Kreidler, Bloomfield, Drew Gnos and Nate Curtis all played basketball, and that experience helped them this spring.
“You come out ready to play,” Kreidler said. “Basketball brings out a competitiveness.”
But it was one of the team’s unsung players who sealed the North title. Junior Kris Prince, in his first start of the season, beat Elk Grove 5-2 last Friday. Teammates call Prince the hardest-working player on the team.
Baseball has bonded this group over the years. As 9- and 10-year-olds, Kreidler, Ariola, Gnos, Bloomfield, Curtis, Golston and Josh Guerrero led the Davis Little League All-Star team to district, section and California Division 2 championships in 2007.
Trask just missed the age cutoff. His father, Mike, coached that team.
Davis players say they embrace their one-town foundation, with Bloomfield saying, “It’s a bubble.”
Coach Ariola watched every inning that Little League team played.
“I was so impressed with how they handled the big stage, and it was intense for everyone – players, coaches, parents, fans,” Ariola said. “Now here they are again. They still handle it so well, and it’s still intense.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.