Turlock Christian, the defending Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII baseball champions, did on Wednesday exactly what was expected of a No. 1 seed taking on a No. 8 seed in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Eagles (19-3), behind southpaw Gavin Farinha, mercy-ruled Foresthill 11-1 in six innings, cruising into a second-round, best-of-three matchup with familiar foe Valley Christian.
The fifth-seeded Lions (12-10), who scored a mild upset with an 8-3 win over No. 4 Delta, lost to Turlock Christian 1-0 in last year’s section final.
Valley Christian is the fourth-winningest program in the section history with eight blue championship banners in 12 finals appearances.
The Lions trail only Central Catholic, (11), Elk Grove (11) and Vanden (9).
Game 1 between Valley Christian and Turlock Christian will take place Monday at 6 p.m. at Pedretti Park. Game 2 will be Wednesday in Roseville. Game 3, if necessary, will be back at Pedretti Park. The series winner advances to face the winner of No. 3 Ripon Christian vs. No. 2 Woodland Christian, at a neutral site on May 23.
Foresthill struck for an unearned run in the first inning Wednesday against TC, but that only seemed to sharpen the focus of Farinha, who’s surrendered just a single earned run in his entire varsity career.
In the home half of the first, after Jack May retired the first two hitters he faced, Rob York doubled to left on a ball that should’ve been caught for the third out. Farinha promptly took advantage of the miscue and drilled a fastball over the wall in left to give the Eagles a 2-1 lead.
They wouldn’t let up from there.
Freshman Joe Farinha, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound “little” brother of Gavin, was 3-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs scored, while teammates Caden Alldrin, Jayden Espinoza, Beau Blake and Andrew Fisher had two hits apiece. York, Farinha and Xavier Ruezga had one hit apiece. Only Will Kelly, who walked three times in four plate appearances, was without hit.
Espinoza drove in the run in the bottom of the sixth that gave Turlock Christian a 10-run lead, bringing the contest to a half.
“I knew I had a chance to end the game,” said Espinoza. “The first pitch was a strike. After that, I was just looking to put the ball in play.”
Freshman Michael Miller also was without a hit, but only because the designated hitter batted for him. Miller’s primary focus on Wednesday was catching Farinha, one of the most heralded pitchers in the entire section.
“It’s been trial by fire,” said TC coach Bill York. “As Gavin has gotten better and stronger as the season goes, whether it’s crispness on his off-speed pitches or his velocity, Michael’s in the deep end. He’s got to figure out how to swim, or he’s going to sink. And he’s risen to the occasion.”
Farinha remembers their first workout together in the off-season.
“First couple of pitches, not even off the mound, I threw a slider and it hit him right in the chest,” Farinha recalled. “I thought, ‘This isn’t going to work.’ But when baseball season started, during my first bullpen with him, I could tell he’d made so much progress. Way different. I pretty much have full confidence in him now.”
Catching a pitcher of Farinha’s caliber has sped up the learning process.
“It’s made me a better all-around catcher,” said Miller, who’s played the position since he was in Little League. “Knowing where to set up, knowing pitch movement … just better all-around.”
Julian Espinoza, who caught Farinha last year and now serves as the team’s catching coach, is pleased with the progress of his protégé.
“He still has a lot to learn, all the little things, because every little thing matters in this game,” the coach said. “I do get on him sometimes, but I get on him for a reason: I think he’s going to be one helluva a catcher.”