Ryan Robards showed up on the eve of the Sac-Joaquin Section baseball playoffs with look-away hair.
As in, “Look away, I’m hideous!”
The Elk Grove High School senior, two-sport star and 4.0 student transformed reasonably nice locks into something of an admitted mess, or, as he called it, “a reverse mohawk/white-boy cornrows.”
The reason? To get into the spirit of the postseason, to let his free spirit loosen up the guys. On Friday night at Sacramento City College, its dream season in serious peril, the Thundering Herd produced back-to-back efforts looking the part of a champion.
Receiving stellar pitching performances from Dylan Carlson in the first game and Christian Scott in the winner-take-all clincher, Elk Grove swept top-seeded Oak Ridge 6-2 and 6-2 to repeat as Division I North winner.
How impressive of a feat?
Beyond having to battle through the losers’ bracket for the second successive season against a powerhouse from the Sierra Foothill League, Elk Grove has further stamped itself as an all-time great section program, in any sport. It won its ninth D-I North title since 2002, all under coach Jeff Carlson, and now seeks its seventh overall section title in that span when it takes on upstart Tracy in the best-of-three series that starts next weekend at Pacific. Overall, Elk Grove is aiming for the program’s 10th section baseball banner, a larger-school record.
Robards will be there – hair, spirit and leadership and all. The outfielder drove in Aaron Wong with a fifth-inning single for a 3-2 lead in the first game as Elk Grove ultimately chased 10-0 Oak Ridge ace Trenton Denholm.
In the second game, Robards blasted a 415-foot triple to dead center in the fifth inning and scored a moment later off a Josh Urps sacrifice fly for a 4-2 lead. In the seventh, Riley Lamb made it 6-2 with a two-run single.
Scott was terrific on the mound in the biggest game of his life, and staff ace Alex Zalasky earned the save with a quick 1-2-3 inning, and the celebration was on as gloves and hats went airborne.
“We knew if we got to their ace in the first game, we could win, and it’d carry over and we’d win this,” Robards said. “It’s a crazy good feeling.”
And Robards explained the hair, which didn’t please his parents much for Monday’s graduation photos as they rolled their eyes, muttering, “That’s Ryan!”
“I do something every year for the playoffs, and it’s our senior year, so let’s have fun with it, and if we’re having fun, everyone relaxes,” Robards said, showcasing his two-pronged goatee and eyebrows with cut marks in the middle.
Dylan Carlson, the coach’s son, is the team leader, a four-year varsity starter who now seeks his third section title in that stretch with his buddy Robards. He defended Robards’ locks, explaining, “as long as he hits, he can do what he wants.”
“Robards came into English class, with a hat and hood on, and had a presentation,” Dylan Carlson recalled. “Then he unveiled the look. I can’t even remember how the presentation went. Couldn’t stop looking at the hair.”
As much as Elk Grove soaked in this moment, with coach Carlson about to pounce on a championship cupcake, there’s more work to be done.
Tracy beat Elk Grove earlier this season, 5-4 in eight innings in the Boras Baseball Classic on March 21. Tracy is in the finals for the first time, having dispatched longtime D-I South champion in the finals on Friday.
“We’ll be ready,” coach Carlson said. “We had great pitching tonight, great defense, senior leadership. The guys really stepped up. Very proud of them. It’s hard to win through the losers’ bracket, and we beat an outstanding team. Now we play another one.”
Oak Ridge will return top pitchers Denholm, John Cross and Tyler Condie for veteran coach Todd Melton, who won his 200th game with the Trojans earlier this month.
The Trojans beat Elk Grove 2-1 with a suicide squeeze in their last at-bat on Tuesday to reach Friday’s title round.