SAN JOSE — After three and a half hours and 11 innings, after numerous ebbs and flows befitting of a game between archrivals, a line drive up the middle found Justin Folan’s glove, just above the pitcher’s shoe top.
The catch is how it ended.
With the sun setting and darkness fast approaching, St. Francis made three sensational defensive plays in the final inning Friday to hold off Bellarmine College Prep 6-5 in an epic West Catholic Athletic League game.
Instead of falling into a tie with Bellarmine for second place, two-time defending Central Coast Section Open Division champion St. Francis reached the halfway point of the league season in first place, tied with Serra in the loss column and two games ahead of Bellarmine.
Daniel Ydens’ sacrifice fly to center drove in the decisive run in the visitor’s half of the 11th.
“Great baseball game,” said St. Francis coach Mike Smith, who took over the program this season from Mike Oakland, now the school’s softball coach. “Both sides. We went up early. They battled back and then we went through all the pitchers we could. They did, too. It was just a great game.”
St. Francis (9-3, 6-1) seemed to have victory well within reach after Josh Lauck cleared the bases with a two-out, three-run double to right-center in the fourth inning and added a sacrifice fly in the sixth for a 4-0 lead.
Brandon Oliver had allowed just two hits to that point and showed no signs of slowing down.
But Bellarmine (8-4, 4-3) rallied for three runs in the sixth and, after St. Francis made it 5-3 in the top of the seventh, scored two in the bottom of the seventh to force extra innings.
It actually could have been better for Bellarmine.
Todd Jackson’s blast off the left-field wall drove in two to even the score 5-5 but resulted in only a single because the runner at first had stayed put to tag up in case the ball was caught.
That left runners at first and second with nobody out.
Bellarmine tried to bunt the runners over but the ball went up instead of down and was caught for the first out.
A 6-4-3 double play followed to send St. Francis back into the dugout relieved to have another chance and Bellarmine back onto the field feeling as if it missed a great chance to complete the comeback.
“We fought,” Bellarmine coach Mike Rodriguez said. “We did as much as we could. We just didn’t execute the little things. There were a lot of opportunities we had. It’s a little frustrating.”
As one extra inning after another came and went with the score still tied, one question loomed: Would the game end in a tie because of darkness?
“To be honest, I thought the inning before this was going to be the last one,” Smith said. “Obviously it worked out that didn’t.”
Ricky Martinez started the winning rally with an infield single up the middle with one out. Mack Cheli then ripped a double to right-center, putting runners at second and third.
Ydens followed with the fly to center to knock in the tiebreaking run.
In the home half of the 11th, Anthony Picchi put down what seemed to be a perfect bunt up the third-base line.
But third baseman Emilio Nogales, a converted first baseman, made a spectacular play, grabbing the ball on the dead run and somehow getting the ball to first base to beat the runner.
Connor Mack then hit a ball deep enough in the hole at first to look like an automatic single.
But the pitcher, Folan, a soccer player, caught the throw while outracing Bellarmine’s lead off man to the bag for the second out.
Laurence Palmer then ripped a liner that Folan snared to end it.
“We didn’t want a tie,” Lauck said. “We wanted to win this game. We really fought to the end. J.T. Folan did a great job on the mound. He came in at the end, even in the dark. I am really proud of our pitching staff and overall defense.”
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With darkness fast approaching Friday, @sfhsathletics gets run in 11th & catch on mound by Justin Folan for final out to edge @BCPSports 6-5 pic.twitter.com/PZriPBfeZs
— Darren Sabedra (@DarrenSabedra) April 1, 2017