The article below originally appeared on MercuryNews.com and is being reprinted with permission.
The College of San Mateo baseball team never trailed Friday afternoon in the opener of its best-of-three regional playoff series, but it also rarely felt comfortable during a 6-4 victory over College of the Sequoias.
After all, the CSM starting pitcher was pulled at the end of four wild innings while the offense twice manufactured three-run leads that nearly slipped away.
“We were trying to hold on, obviously,” CSM coach Doug Williams said.
The tying run found itself 90 feet away in the eighth inning — and that was just moments after the catcher nearly broke his collarbone.
At least CSM had the right man on the mound as closer Josh Fredenhall leads the state in ERA after allowing one run over 36 innings.
Fredenhall entered the game after Devin Bradley was tagged for a two-run homer plus a single following 3 2/3 shutout innings of relief. A wild pitch took a sharp bounce and hit CSM catcher Tyler Nitahara on the collarbone, preventing him from making a throw to second. Then Fredenhall proceeded to walk the No. 9 hitter on four pitches.
“He wasn’t razor sharp right away, but to his credit he mellowed it out and dominated from there on after that,” Williams said.
Nitahara, still sore, threw out the runner at second on a double steal for the second out. But that still meant a runner advanced to third.
That’s when Fredenhall turned to his sharp slider and struck out the final batter, with Nitahara picking up the ball off the dirt and throwing the runner out at first.”Everyone has faith in each other,” Nitahara said. “This is just how close the team is. Everyone fights for each other, we back each other up.”
CSM (26-10) scored three times in the bottom of the first by taking advantage of its speed.
Leadoff hitter Justin Maffei, who fell a home run shy of the cycle, singled and stole second before moving to third on a bunt single. A sacrifice fly was followed by an RBI double from Joe Goldenberg, who promptly scored on a single by Mark Hurley.
“We have to continue to be aggressive,” Williams said. “With these bats you can’t sit around and wait. It’s just a different game.”
Maffei and Hurley hit two-out doubles the next two innings, but were left stranded.
Sequoias (26-11) struck for runs in the third and fourth. That’s when CSM starter Clay Bauer, who battled without his best stuff, was lifted for Bradley.
The Carlmont-Belmont product held the lead for two innings until shortstop Riley Goulding ripped a double down the left-field line in the sixth that scored Nitahara from first — the ball hitting the catcher on the shoulder as he made his way home.
“Nitahara got beat up like crazy,” Williams said. “He took one in the thumb and took another in the collarbone and almost broke it. He came back and played outstanding.”
Maffei, who finished 3-for-4 with a walk, followed up with a triple to center field for a 5-2 lead.
“Obviously, they pitched him very tough because he’s one of our key guys and he answered right back,” Williams said.
In need of another insurance run, CSM’s Nathan Bobrowski hit a leadoff double in the eighth and Nitahara nailed the sacrifice bunt. With the infield drawn in, Goulding followed up with a single up the middle to make it 6-4.
“The little things mean a lot,” Nitahara said. “That’s what we learn here and that’s what the coaches talk about every single time. It’s about getting the job done to score that one run.”
The ninth inning lacked suspense as Goulding made a backhanded play for the first out to spark Fredenhall’s 1-2-3 inning.
Game 2 of the series is today at 11 a.m., with Game 3 to follow if necessary after a 30-minute break.
“Tomorrow we have to come in with the mentality of whatever it takes,” Williams said.