Don’t be misled by the overall win-loss record. After all, a tough schedule can make for a tough team.
Elk Grove High School baseball has been a powerhouse program in the Sac-Joaquin Section for years, a juggernaut zipping over speed bumps in facing stout competition across the state with no sign of letting up once the playoffs start.
Despite massive losses to graduation last May, the two-time defending Division I champions are back in cruise control, the latest bit of proof coming Saturday afternoon. With Brian Freitas tossing a four-hit gem, the defense overcoming three errors and Shawn Zamora contributing with a two-run double in the fourth inning, the Thundering Herd topped Oak Ridge 4-1 in a D-I North contest at Sacramento City College.
Elk Grove (19-10) started this season 1-4, suffering close losses to Bay Area powers De La Salle of Concord and Valley Christian of San Jose, while also earning early wins against Clovis North of Fresno and Oak Ridge, followed by a competitive 1-3 showing at a national tournament in San Diego.
What matters now is the Delta League champions have grown from the experiences and they looked the part of a confident and cohesive bunch as they beat the Sierra Foothill League winners at steamy Union Stadium.
“We play powerful programs up and down the state, and sometimes we win and sometimes we lose, but we’re always getting better,” Elk Grove senior star pitcher and slugger Riley Lamb said. “We’re definitely rolling now. And that’s usually what Elk Grove does. Gotta love the pressure.”
Elk Grove advances to Tuesday’s round at Sac City, where a victory would inch the program closer to its 10th North title since 2002, all under coach Jeff Carlson. He’s the man who schedules tough to season his team.
“Record wise, we’re never going to be a nationally ranked team because so much of it’s win-loss, but it’s about exposing our guys to great competition and players,” Carlson said. “And it helps me as a coach to see who can perform, how we react, because we do get better.”
What’s more, a San Diego trip affords the luxury of change.
“It’s been a huge bonding trip for us,” Carlson said. “Get away, have a good time, let loose a little, play some baseball.”
Freitas did not allow an earned run against Oak Ridge (20-9). He walked none and struck out four to improve to 5-0. The junior also beat Clovis North 3-1, La Costa Canyon in San Diego 5-0 and Jesuit 2-0 late in the regular season.
“I love being put on the line in a big game,” Freitas said. “I’m relaxed out there. We have a good defense. Put the ball in play. And you’ve got to want to win.”
Elk Grove scratched out seven hits against Robert Gasser, who impressed with seven strikeouts and only walked two. Herd infielders Kordell Brown and Tanner Carlson each had a hit, including an RBI for Carlson. Lamb scored a run and George Spithorst drove in one.
Lamb, the ace headed to USC, could start Tuesday. He’s ready for it. Elk Grove could also go with Jake Jordan, another impressive arm on the staff. These are among the perks of that come with winning.
With the tournament now in the double-elimination phase, Elk Grove plays the winner of Saturday’s second-game winner between Davis and Del Oro. Oak Ridge plays that game’s loser on Monday.