How St. Francis edged Palo Alto for CCS DI baseball title in a classic

SAN JOSE — After all the zeroes by the starting pitchers and flawless fielding from the defenses, an epic Central Coast Section Division I baseball final ended Saturday night with the only run of the game.

Elias Duncan, a ball of fire shortstop and leadoff hitter in the St. Francis lineup, stepped into the batter’s box in the bottom of the eighth inning with the bases filled and nobody out.

“It just takes one play,” he said.

The moment the ball left Duncan’s bat, sailing to deep center field at Excite Ballpark, the junior knew the game was finally over.

Derek Gile tagged from third after star centerfielder Henry Bolte chased down Duncan’s flyball and crossed home plate with the winner as St. Francis prevailed 1-0 to capture its ninth section title.

A game that will be remembered for seven scoreless innings by each starting pitcher — St. Francis’ Blake Rogers and Palo Alto’s Sam Papp — ended with the top-seeded Lancers celebrating their third championship of the spring.

They won the West Catholic Athletic League regular-season and postseason tournament titles on their home field in Mountain View. But neither matched the drama that unfolded Saturday at the venue formerly known as San Jose Municipal Stadium.

“What a game,” St. Francis coach Matt Maguire said. “Division I CCS, the two best teams, that’s exactly what you would hope to get.”

Both teams brought grit, poise and talent — lots of talent — to the field.

But no scoring.

“From the first two innings, we knew it was going to be a pitchers’ duel,” said Bolte, a Texas commit. “We had some hard-hit balls right at guys, some really great plays by their team. It came down to really who was going to score first. Blake Rogers threw an absolute gem, and I can’t say enough about Sam Papp. That is an unbelievable performance by him.

“It was a special game to watch.”

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – MAY 28: St. Francis’ Elias Duncan (2), third from left, emerges from the bottom of a dogpile after knocking in the winning run with a sacrifice fly against Palo Alto in the Central Coast Section Division I baseball championship game at Excite Ballpark in San Jose, Calif ., Saturday, May 28, 2022, (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Palo Alto (26-6) loaded the bases twice against the Baylor-commit Rogers, in the third inning and the seventh. Needing one out both times, Rogers got it. A flyball to left field ended the third and a groundball to first stranded three more runners in the seventh.

“We knocked on the door,” Palo Alto coach Pete Fukuhara said. “We just couldn’t bust through.”

Papp didn’t allow a runner to get beyond second while he was on the mound. The junior retired 13 in a row during one stretch and gave up only three hits without a walk through the first seven innings.

He was removed after Gile singled to open the eighth.

“Maybe we didn’t pull it out today,” Papp said. “But there is no one I’d rather go to battle with.”

After Papp left to a standing ovation, St. Francis (29-4) went right to work. Luke DeVine worked a quick walk and Brady Choi, who was trying to bunt the runners to second and third, reached on an error to fill the bases.

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - MAY 28: St.  Francis' Brady Choi reaches 1st base on a bunt in the eighth inning after a Palo Alto error in the Central Coast Section Division I baseball championship game at Excite Ballpark in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, May 28, 2022, (Karl Mondon/ Bay Area News Group)
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – MAY 28: St. Francis’ Brady Choi reaches 1st base on a bunt in the eighth inning after a Palo Alto error in the Central Coast Section Division I baseball championship game at Excite Ballpark in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, May 28, 2022, (Karl Mondon/ Bay Area News Group)

Up stepped Duncan, the perfect guy for the spot.

“He is literally made for that situation,” Maguire said. “That kid is made to put balls in play. He’s made to hit line drives. He’s made to work the middle of the field. He just did what he has done a hundred times for us this year. I am just proud he was able to get it done. Proud we were able to get it done.”

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - MAY 28: St.  Francis' Elias Duncan (2) knocks in the winning run with a sacrifice fly against Palo Alto in the Central Coast Section Division I baseball championship game at Excite Ballpark in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, May 28, 2022, (Karl Mondon/ Bay Area News Group)
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – MAY 28: St. Francis’ Elias Duncan (2) knocks in the winning run with a sacrifice fly against Palo Alto in the Central Coast Section Division I baseball championship game at Excite Ballpark in San Jose, Calif., Saturday, May 28, 2022, (Karl Mondon/ Bay Area News Group)

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