CONCORD — The last out against De La Salle in a playoff baseball game is never easy. No team has done it in seven years.
St. Francis tried Saturday.
And like all the others, the Lancers left the field in defeat. This one stung the visitors from Mountain View, who brought Cal-Hi Sports’ No. 1 state ranking to the lumpy and dusty field De La Salle calls home for the final game of the season.
With the inaugural California Interscholastic Federation NorCal Division I championship at stake, second-seeded St. Francis took a three-run lead into the home half of the seventh inning.
De La Salle scored four runs — the final two on Ethan Dungo’s two-strike chopper through the middle — to prevail 7-6 and ignite a wild celebration in the middle of the field.
“It’s unbelievable,” Dungo said. “It felt surreal. When I touched first base and I saw my teammate (Donovan Chriss) cross home plate, it was all that we worked for — summer, fall and during the season.”
In a back-and-forth game that began with aces on the mound — De La Salle’s Cal Randall and St. Francis’ Blake Rogers — the bottom of the seventh was uncharacteristic of a St. Francis team that won 31 games and league and section championships this spring.
Two errors and a hit batter loaded the bases for De La Salle with nobody out. Chriss’ single cut the margin to 7-5. Elias Rubio’s groundout to shortstop made it 7-6 and left runners at second and third with one out.
Up stepped Dungo.
When the count reached two strikes, the senior remembered all the coaching from David Jeans through the years.
“I just had my two-strike approach that coach Jeans taught me since I was a sophomore,” Dungo said. “Just widen out, get the hands out there and let the defense make their plays.”
On De La Salle’s field, it’s not easy for the defense to make plays. Bad hops are commonplace — in the infield and the outfield — and the championship game was no exception.
“It goes both ways sometimes,” Jeans said. “But it is a home-field advantage. That’s part of trying to get the No. 1 seed.”
De La Salle was seeded No. 1 because of its 5-0 victory at St. Francis on March 12.
St. Francis coach Matt Maguire, classy in defeat, refused to blame the outcome on De La Salle’s field, which accounted for at least four bad hops.
“No excuses,” Maguire said. “You’ve got to make plays.”
Randall, amid the celebration in the outfield, was asked if the Spartans have the most beautiful ugly field around.
“Yeah, exactly, this is the essence of sport,” Randall said. “It’s great. It’s awesome. It’s a battlefield. You never know. There are mines everywhere.”
Randall breezed through the first three innings — nine up, nine down — and De La Salle (27-6) took a 1-0 lead in the first inning courtesy of a bad hop.
Tanner Griffith got hit by a pitch, Anthony Martinez followed with a bad-hop single past second base and Cade Cushing’s infield single into the hole at shortstop drove in Giffith for the first run.
In the fourth, Derek Gile’s single to right evened the score 1-1, but Griffith prevented two more runs from scoring with maybe the catch of the season.
Tyson Smith stroked a sinking line drive to right field that Griffith dived Superman-style to catch.
“Offf the bat, I was like, ‘It’s going to be a close play no matter what,’” Griffith said. “I put my body in the line for the boys. Great group of guys.”
De La Salle responded to Griffth’s catch with two immediate runs. Kai Smith’s bad-hop double to left was followed by Chriss’ bad-hop single that made it 2-1. Dungo’s sacrifice fly to center widened the advantage to 3-1.
St. Francis (31-5) seized the momentum in the fifth.
Wyatt King’s two-run single tied the score 3-3 and Max Ross’ two-run homer over the right-field fence gave the Lancers a 5-3 lead and ended the day for Randall.
Ryan Lee’s run-scoring single in the top of the seventh stretched the cushion to 6-3.
That set the stage for another De La Salle comeback.
The Spartans rallied from 6-2 behind in the seventh inning to beat San Ramon Valley in the East Bay Athletic League tournament last month. Two weeks later, they overcame an early four-run deficit and were down to their final out in the seventh before surviving in extra innings to stun Foothill for the North Coast Section Division I title.
De La Salle has won 23 consecutive postseason games (20 in NCS and now three in NorCals). Its last playoff loss was to College Park in an NCS final in 2015.