Joe Davidson

State-ranked Elk Grove and Franklin get chance to renew rivalry on the baseball field

Elk Grove High baseball players celebrate winning the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title last year in Sacramento. The Thundering Herd are The Bee's top-ranked team this season at 8-3-2.
Elk Grove High baseball players celebrate winning the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title last year in Sacramento. The Thundering Herd are The Bee's top-ranked team this season at 8-3-2. Sacramento Bee file

This program doesn't have a specific rivalry.

It seems everyone gears up to take a shot at Elk Grove High School, The Bee's top-ranked baseball program. That comes with the territory when you own the territory and collect championship banners.

"Everyone's our rival," said longtime Thundering Herd coach Jeff Carlson. "It's always heated against Davis. We've had good games against a lot of league teams. We have a target on our backs. Even down south (in a national tournament last month), teams were throwing their No. 1 guy at us. They save their top guy for us. That says something, and that's good. It helps our guys compete."

Elk Grove will compete plenty this week, especially on Thursday and Friday, with games against No. 2 Franklin in a Delta League race that also includes No. 5 Davis and No. 6 Jesuit.

The Thundering Herd (8-3-2) have not lost to a regional team this season in playing one of California's most taxing schedules. They opened with a scoreless tie with CalHi Sports No. 1 Valley Christian of San Jose in a game suspended due to darkness. They also had a 4-4 tie at home against longtime powerhouse St. Mary's of Stockton

Elk Grove capped a 4-1 week Saturday with a 3-1 loss to state No. 13 De La Salle in a showcase at Cal. Elk Grove beat Bee No. 4 Oak Ridge 11-1 last week as George Spithorst – a Bee All-Metro slugger last season – earned the win. He is 2-0 with an 0.88 ERA.

Vincent Fashano and Noah Ferruggia also pitched well in games last week for a Herd squad that sports a 1.45 team ERA. Brian Freitas is 2-1 with a 1.50 ERA.

On offense, Blake Dickman has a .385 average and 12 RBIs, and Tanner Carlson – the coach's son – is hitting .366 with 13 runs scored.

In the Cal-Hi rankings released Monday, Elk Grove is No. 18 and Franklin 19. Cal-Hi shares the same philosophy as The Bee in ranking teams near each other if they are going to play – so they can decide it on the field.

Franklin (13-3) has also impressed this season under veteran coach Bryan Kilby. The Wildcats opened the season with a 2-0 win over Vacaville on a 15-strikeout perfect game by Evan Gibbons, who is 2-1 and has a 1.30 ERA.

Franklin has other big wins this season, defeating St. Mary's 5-2, Woodcreek 12-2 and Granite Bay 3-2. Grant Stevens is 5-0 with an 0.72 ERA and Zach Meddings is 4.1 with a 1.86 ERA. Carson Stevens has 16 RBIs and Jake Pina has 15 RBIs and a .400 average.

Franklin lost to state No. 7 Bellarmine 3-2 in eight innings in last month's Boras Classic final in Sacramento. Bellarmine was No. 2 in the state last week before losing 5-2 to Valley Christian in a rivalry matchup.

Now it gets really fun for Franklin and Elk Grove.

"Nothing going on this week," Kilby joked. "We're excited. Our team has been awesome. I really like this group."

Stevens will start Thursday and Gibbons on Friday.

"Stevens is one of the most competitive kids we've ever had, a bulldog," Kilby said. "Gibbons is a stud, a gem. He's our leader on and off the field."

Carlson said his team also has good leaders.

"Our pitching has been stellar and our defense outstanding," Carlson said. "We have a lot of returning starters and expect them to play the right way. Just being consistent is the key.

"We have three losses, and we're a few breaks away from winning those. If we were playing bad, I'd be discouraged. We haven't played bad, but we haven't been great, either.

"Now we're in the thick of the league race and we'll see how it goes. We know every game is a battle. Last year, Franklin dumped us twice, and then we went on a roll."

Franklin beat Elk Grove 5-3 and 9-7, and the Herd sizzled from there, winning 15 of 16 down the stretch, including going 6-0 in the playoffs to three-peat as Sac-Joaquin Section Division I champions. It was the eighth section title since 2003 for Elk Grove under Carlson in 10 title-game appearances.

Kilby coached Franklin to the 2012 section finals, falling to St. Mary's, which capped a championship three-peat.

Brown honored – Jordan Brown, The Bee's 2017 Boys Basketball Player of the Year, was named the USA Today California State Player of the Year.

The 6-foot-11 forward averaged 21.5 points and 11.7 rebounds for Prolific Prep of Napa, which went 27-7 against a national schedule and does not compete in a California league or state playoffs. Brown, who earned All-USA Today second-team honors, has not decided on a college.

The state Coach of the Year is Andre Chevalier of Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth, which pulled away from Sheldon in the fourth quarter for a 75-62 victory in last month's CIF State Open Division final. Brown led Woodcreek to the Open final in 2017.

The Bee's Top 20 baseball rankings

With last week's ranking in parentheses.

1. Elk Grove (1) 8-3-2

2. Franklin (3) 13-3

3. Rocklin (2) 12-4

4. Oak Ridge (4) 9-6

5. Davis (5) 7-5

6. Jesuit (6) 6-6

7. Del Campo (8) 13-3-1

8. Capital Christian (9) 13-3

9. Winters (11) 19-1

10. Yuba City (12) 13-4

11. Cosumnes Oaks (7) 11-4

12. Woodcreek (10) 9-7

13. Granite Bay (13) 8-8

14. Woodland (16) 10-3

15. Laguna Creek (-) 12-3

16. McClatchy (17) 9-6

17. Christian Brothers (18) 10-4

18. Lincoln (19) 13-3

19. El Camino (20) 12-2

20. Ponderosa (-) 11-4

Dropped out: Oakmont, Pleasant Grove

The Bee's Top 20 softball rankings

With last week's ranking in parentheses.

1. Sheldon (1) 8-2

2. Granite Bay (2) 9-1

3. Casa Roble (3) 13-3

4. Del Campo (4) 11-1

5. Elk Grove (5) 12-3-1

6. Pleasant Grove (7) 9-4

7. Del Oro (16) 7-6-1

8. Oak Ridge (8) 8-4-1

9. Lincoln (6) 8-5

10. Pioneer (12) 10-1-1

11. Bella Vista (9) 12-4-1

12. Rocklin (10) 6-5

13. Woodcreek (11) 6-5

14. Whitney (13) 10-6-1

15. Christian Brothers (14) 8-3

16. Roseville (15) 10-6-1

17. Yuba City (18) 13-4

18. Franklin (19) 8-8-1

19. McClatchy (-) 7-3

20. Bear River (-) 5-5

Dropped out: Oakmont, St. Francis.