The day started with a traditional good-luck kiss from coach Jeff Carlson to his inspirational wife, Caryn, the radiant, ever-tanning one in the stands.
It ended nearly three hours later Saturday afternoon when second baseman Carlos Moseley dove to tag out a runner, and the celebration was on.
Elk Grove High School beat St. Mary’s of Stockton 5-2 at Sacramento City College to win the best-of-three series in a resounding sweep. This marks the program’s sixth Sac-Joaquin Section Division I baseball banner since 2003 under Carlson.
Moseley and shortstop Nick Madrigal anchored an infield defense that turned three double plays to help gritty pitcher Chris Martin. The unit – which also includes third baseman Brooks Day and first baseman Dylan Carlson, the coach’s son – is as good as this region has seen and the best Jeff Carlson said he has had in 16 seasons as the Thundering Herd’s coach.
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Ty Madrigal, Nick’s twin brother, struck out 10 in a 5-0 win in Game 1 on Friday, and Martin earned his second playoff win after enduring an otherwise frustrating season with shoulder tendinitis.
Elk Grove (24-10) received contributions throughout the lineup, down to Nos. 8 and 9 hitters Aaron Wong and Peyton Wheatley, each driving in two runs, to defeat the Rams (21-14). Other Herd mainstays this season include catcher Landon Gastelum and outfielders Austin Del Chiaro and Ryan Robards, who left Union Stadium with a freshly shaved head, just for kicks.
“We’re brothers, all of us,” Moseley said. “I dove to make that last out because we wanted this so bad. Very proud of every one. It’s hard to get here and win it.”
Coach Carlson can speak to that. An All-Metro player for Christian Brothers in the 1980s, Carlson recalled his first Herd team that suffered an agonizing loss to Merced in the D-I finals in 2002.
“We had an all-senior lineup, and I was distraught, thinking, ‘Man, it’s so hard to get here. Will we ever get back?’ And here we are again. Amazing run.”
An amazing run with one constant: Caryn. She has moved Carlson and the Herd by overcoming cancer and a condition that three years ago relegated her to a wheelchair.
“Caryn’s a great example of overcoming, and she amazes all of us,” said coach Carlson, whose team battled through the D-I North losers’ bracket just to get to the finals. “This is a great group. They play hard, and if we play the game the right way, I’m extremely happy, win or lose. I feel good for all of these guys, and we have the best assistant coaches in the country.”
The winningest coach in Northern California prep baseball history was on hand to see the Herd, because Guy Anderson appreciates good baseball and a championship coach. A Hall of Fame coach, Anderson guided the Cordova powerhouses of the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s. He said admiringly of the Herd, “Outstanding group.”
Wong drove in Ty Madrigal in the fourth inning to tie it 2-2, and Wheatley’s two-run double a moment later made it 4-2. Wong drove in Day in the sixth for the final margin.
Martin scattered six hits, walking one and striking out two. He vowed to give the Herd everything he had, and he did. They all did.