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Baseball: Clayton Valley survives tense stages, improves to 18-0

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			Baseball: Clayton Valley survives tense stages, improves to 18-0

PLEASANT HILL — Clayton Valley Charter’s undefeated baseball season reached an uneasy moment Thursday, one that could have sent the Ugly Eagles tumbling against an opponent they have struggled to beat through the years.

College Park had filled the bases in the bottom of the sixth, nobody out and its cleanup hitter — a burly guy who smashed a double earlier in the game — at the plate.

Clayton Valley led by three runs.

“At that point, you’ve got to just grind,” Clayton Valley ace James Biles said after his team held on to win 3-0 and run its record to 18-0. “I wasn’t stressing. I knew I had a great defense behind me. All I could do was make my pitches, and that’s what I felt I did.”

Biles got Christian Encarnacion-Strand to pop up, but the pitcher dropped the ball in foul territory, just off the first-base line.

Dejection? No way.

“You’ve just got to roll with it,” Biles said after he improved his season record to 8-0 with a 0.11 ERA. “Baseball is a game of failure. The next pitch comes right now.”

On the next pitch, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound right-hander with a goatee beyond his years got a strikeout.

He struck out the next batter, too, and got the batter after that to fly out to left.

Inning over. Lead still three. Three outs from staying perfect.

Biles and his teammates had to roll with it again in the seventh as College Park’s leadoff batter reached first when the center fielder dropped the ball.

One out later, Biles overthrew second base while trying to end the game with a double play and just like that College Park was threatening to end perfection.

A double play ended the rally as Clayton Valley, the Bay Area News Group’s second-ranked team, moved to 4-0 in the Diablo Athletic League Foothill Conference, two games in front of its nearest pursuers.

How do you explain 18-0?

“I can’t explain it,” catcher Doug Bermudez said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing in high school.”

Clayton Valley wasted little time giving its ace a lead. Justin Roper opened the game with a walk, and Bill Ralston followed with a single to left. Bermudez’s sacrifice moved the runners to second and third.

After a strikeout, Vince Lontz singled to left to drive in a run. When the left fielder misplayed the ball, another run scored to make it 2-0.

Kevin Snyder’s single to center in the third knocked in another run to widen the lead to 3-0.

Given that Biles has allowed just one earned run all season, the advantage seemed plenty safe.

That is, until the ultra-tense final two innings.

“We did have some chances, and they gave us some opportunities as well,” College Park coach Andy Tarpley said. “You can’t win if you don’t score. It’s stuff that we work on, but in a heightened atmosphere against somewhat of a league rival the boys have got to be able to execute. We didn’t get it done today.”

On the other end, Biles performed as he has all season. He has allowed just one earned run in 62 innings.

“Very mature kid,” Clayton Valley coach Casey Coakley said. “He’s a four-year varsity player for us. He is very confident, no matter if he is doing great or if he’s struggling. You’re going to get the same James Biles.”

Snyder and Bermudez are each hitting over .400 for the season to lead an offense that has a collective average around .300.

The victory Thursday came one day after the top team in the Bay Area News Group’s rankings, Foothill, suffered its first loss of the season, 3-1 at De La Salle as Cullen Kafka threw a two-hitter.

No. 3 Miramonte improved to 18-0 on Thursday, routing Ygnacio Valley 19-1.

Clayton Valley won’t play again until the calendar moves to May, Tuesday at home against Northgate.

Asked if the perfect record has applied any added pressure on his team, Coakley said no.

“We just enjoy the opportunity to go compete,” he said. “It’s a gift, a blessing to be out on a ball field to play. We look to play our best game each and every game, try to be better the next day than we were today. That’s kind of our mantra.”

Elsewhere

Bellarmine College Prep scored two runs in the sixth to take the lead and added another run in the seventh for a 3-1 win at Serra, a victory that extended the Bells’ winning streak to 10 games and moved them to within one game of first place in the West Catholic Athletic League. … Andrew Meggs had three hits, including a home run, and knocked in five runs as Leland defeated Willow Glen 7-3 in a Blossom Valley Athletic League Mount Hamilton Division game. The outcome pulled Leland and Leigh to within a half game of first-place Willow Glen in the division standings.

For more on high school sports, go here. For scores and schedules, go to bayareapreps.com.

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