Thirty-three times in their record-setting season the Colusa RedHawks left the field with a win, but in the 34th and final contest of the year, such was not the case as in front of a packed house on June 4, they fell 9-0 to the Bradshaw Christian Pride in the inaugural CIF NorCal Division IV Baseball Championship.
Less than 24 hours after graduation, a crowd from all reaches of the county gathered to watch the unbeaten No.1 seeded RedHawks take on No. 2 Bradshaw Christian (24-5), the Sierra Valley Conference and Sac-San Joaquin Section Division V champion.
But on an uncharacteristically cool and cloudy day, not even the unprecedented support was enough, as the impressive Pride lineup batted around in the top half of the first inning to take a 7-0 lead and gain control of the game.
And, despite having battled back from deficits before, this one was insurmountable as Bradshaw’s freshman pitcher, David Wisner, in his first varsity appearance, and aided by some outstanding defense behind him, scattered six hits, yielded no walks, and did not allow a RedHawk runner to advance past second base.
Although Wisner was not overpowering, he located and mixed his pitches so that just three batters, seniors Justin Lee, Emanuel Frias, and Clay Randolph, accounted for the entirety of the RedHawks’ hits with two apiece.
Making matters more difficult, Colusa went without the services of its ace Ethan Lay, who technically could have gone four innings, but had thrown 110 pitches in the first round win over No. 8 Branson four days prior.
Also, unavailable to pitch was Luke Kalfsbeek, after having thrown a complete game in the second round against No. 4 Christopher on June 2.
As a result, the duty fell to Frias and fellow senior Hunter Sines, who were hampered by six RedHawk errors, which ultimately resulted in five unearned runs.
Sines entered the game in relief in the first inning and performed admirably, yielding just three hits over the six remaining innings.
Yet in the end, the Pride was simply better this time around as head coach Eric Lay acknowledged in the aftermath.
“Today just wasn’t our day,” Lay said. “We couldn’t get out of our own way early, and they made all their plays. They were well-prepared, well coached, and their pitcher was great. We had to play our best game to beat them, and we didn’t. As we talk about all the time, when a team is better and they beat us, we tip our cap, shake their hands, and try to get better. The only bad thing about today is we don’t have the chance to get better.”
Still, it’s important to note that the loss is not what defines the 2022 RedHawks, owners of the second-longest consecutive single season win streak in state history, and one of just two public schools to reach a championship game in the NorCal region.
This year came with extraordinary success for Colusa, including triumphs at their own Mike West Invitational, the San Diego Lions Tournament, and most recently, the Northern Section Division IV Championship.
There were moments of brilliance characterized by 13 combined shutouts and four no-hitters, as well as others marked by resilience, including come-from-behind victories over Winters, Willows, and Branson to name a few.
However, one constant, and perhaps the most significant aspect given that records are made to be broken, has been the team’s camaraderie, which began with a core group of athletes that have played together since they were eight years old.
It’s precisely that history that made the season’s end so emotional, much more than the actual loss as Lay, the crew’s coach over the last 10 years, explained.
“The hardest part is saying goodbye to some fantastic kids, and it starts with the eight seniors that I have coached since Little League,” Lay said. “There isn’t another group I’d rather spend more time with than these gentlemen. They showed up and have worked their tails off. That’s just who they are. We have been together for about 150 days this season, starting right after Christmas break, and if you are going to give me 149 great days and one bad one, sign me up; I’ll start tomorrow. These guys are class acts.”
To get to the regional final, the RedHawks first beat Branson, a private school from Ross, in Marin County on May 31.
On the mound, Ethan Lay went five and two-thirds, striking out 13 and scattering six hits before giving way to Kalfsbeek, who closed out the final inning and a third to preserve the 5-4 win.
Frias finished 2 for 3 and Niko Silvas had a two-run double to lead the RedHawks at the plate.
Lee also doubled while Nick Price singled in his only at bat of the game, and then came in to score the winning run on a balk by the Bulls’ pitcher.
Colusa then followed up in the semifinal round with a hard-fought 2-1 victory against Christopher, a school from Gilroy that is more than four times larger, and where for the second game in a row, the result was determined in the bottom of the seventh.
Again, it was Price crossing the plate for the game winner, this time after Frias hit a soft liner with two outs that was dropped by a Cougar infielder.
Price went 2 for 3 in the win, with Frias tripling and scoring the RedHawks’ first run of the game.
Lee, Kalfsbeek, and Randolph all recorded singles.
Kalfsbeek, in his second outing on the hill in the NorCal finals, punched out six while allowing just two hits to help his team reach the title game against Bradshaw Christian.
Colusa completed the 2022 season with an overall record of 33-1, an accomplishment in which the team, the school, and community can all take pride. ■