There’s an old, weathered, polished down rock that makes the rounds in the dugout.
Elk Grove High School baseball players handle the mineral material, pass it around and sometimes even talk to it. The theme being this: Be a rock. Strong as one, hard as one.
The rock was paraded about again Friday afternoon amid a championship glow as the Thundering Herd beat Delta League rival Davis 9-6 at Sacramento City College to three-peat as Sac-Joaquin Section Division I North champions.
Herd coach Jeff Carlson, as burly and stout as he can be gregarious and warm, recalled nearly falling flat on his face tripping over a rock a few seasons ago, suggesting that if it “could knock me over at my size, that shows how strong a rock can be.”
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Carlson remained upright then, and so has his team. Despite losing all but three of last year’s starters to graduation, enduring a brutal nonleague season and playing in the ever-competitive Delta League, Elk Grove emerged as the region’s best team for the 10th time since 2002 with so many championship plaques, it’s crowding out the trophy case. This has all happened under Carlson.
The 10 North titles represent some dynasty – as good as in any sport, either gender, in section history. And it’s all the more impressive given the baseball talent in the D-I field.
“The rock,” Carlson said. “There are three types of players. Marshmallow, jelly bean, rock. The flame’s the pressure. It makes a marshmallow soft and burn. A jelly bean is hard on the outside, soft inside. A rock doesn’t burn. Stays strong.”
Riley Lamb is one of the returning starters, and he has performed like a Bee Player of the Year candidate in this postseason after a slow start to the season.
The USC-bound senior went 2-0 in the playoffs as the staff ace, and he crushed his second mammoth home run on Friday, a two-run shot over the left-field fence in the bottom of the first inning to set the tone.
Shortstop Tanner Carlson is another returning starter. He drove in a run and showed that he absolutely belongs on the field despite season-long rumblings from opposing dugouts that he’s only a starter because Jeff Carlson is his father.
First baseman George Spithorst is the third returning starter, and he had a hit and scored a run Friday (he also smashed a homer earlier this postseason).
One of the new faces has been Brian Freitas, a junior and the team’s No. 2 arm. He has impressed in this postseason on the mound, and he collected three hits Friday. Another new face is Jake Jordan. He pitched five innings, striking out six and departing with a 9-3 lead.
Elk Grove went 4-0 against the Blue Devils, winning twice in league and twice in the playoffs at Union Stadium in the double-elimination tournament.
“It’s a lot of fun to win, a ton of fun, always a blast,” said Freitas, who said he learned to love baseball from his father, Mike Freitas, who pitched several seasons in the minor leagues. “We came together as a team. We played as hard as we could. We started the season slow but finished strong, and we’re still going.”
Elk Grove (21-10) will play the South winner in a best-of-3 series starting Friday at Sac City, seeking its seventh title since 2003 and 11th overall, the most in section history for larger schools and one shy of the overall mark held by Central Catholic of Modesto. But more work is to be done.
“We’re still putting the puzzle pieces together,” Lamb said. Of his sudden surge at the plate and dominance on the mound, he added, “I’m trying to be that guy, a leader.”