In sports, the term grinder is a compliment or even badge of honor, bestowed not necessarily on a team’s best player, but on one who is the grittiest, has the greatest resolve and perseverance, and refuses to give in.
This season, the term has become synonymous with the Colusa RedHawk baseball team, which saw that mentality payoff May 20 at home, when they overcame early miscues to defeat the U-Prep Panthers 10-2 and capture their second straight Northern Section Division IV crown.
Despite sporting a 27-3-1 overall record, it wasn’t always easy for the No. 1 seeded RedHawks, coming off their historic 2022 season, but they reached the championship game of the state regional finals and proved the naysayers wrong.
“Everyone said we were not the same team and doubted us,” explained winning pitcher, Luke Kalfsbeek, still sporting his dirt and blood stained jersey after the game. “It wasn’t that we were always the most talented team on the field, but it was about who showed up. Everyone said that this team rolled over when things got tough, but we proved that we show up.”
And that is precisely what Kalfsbeek and his teammates did, maintaining their composure, even as the No. 2 seeded Panthers put the game’s first run on the board in the top of the second inning after capitalizing on a passed ball.
But the lead didn’t last long, as Colusa took advantage of several Panther mistakes, to put up a two-spot, after Bo Coronado delivered an opposite field single that plated Seth Kalisuch, who had reached on an error to lead off the frame.
With Coronado turning over the lineup, Joel Magallon then lined a two-out, two-strike pitch to center for a double to give the RedHawks a 2-1 advantage.
After a quick third inning, U-Prep tied the game in the fourth, when, after the leadoff batter reached on an error, the second man up bounced a ball over third base that, while appearing to be foul, was ruled fair.
However, Kalfsbeek effectively minimized the damage and held the Panthers to a single run, something that impressed his coach Eric Lay and energized his teammates.
“I am super proud of Luke for the way he handled the fourth inning, because it could have been a big one for them,” said Lay. “One thing that gave me comfort today: I didn’t know how many runs we’d score, but I knew Luke would keep us in the game. His maturity really showed.”
For his part, Kalfsbeek credited his teammates saying, “I was confident because I was making good pitches and my teammates were making amazing plays behind me. So, after we held them to just one run, they got the bats going and exploded for five runs.”
In the home half of the fourth, Magallon again came through, driving in a pair with a single, while fellow senior, Niko Silvas, delivered a bases loaded single that added on two more runs to make the score 7-2 and break the game open.
While the Panthers could get nothing going against Kalfsbeek, who appeared to get stronger as the game progressed, the RedHawk offense struck for three more runs in the fifth inning.
As the U-Prep pitchers continued to struggle with control, Magallon singled to knock in his third run of the day. Will McCoy drew a bases loaded walk, while a balk accounted for the third and final run in the inning.
A transfer from Pierce last year, Magallon, who finished 3 for 5, has had a breakout season for the RedHawks and as a result drew praise from Lay.
“One of the questions in my mind this year was who was going to hit leadoff, and Joel has stepped in and ran with it,” said the coach, who wrapped up his 10th section title with the win. “I’m so proud of him. Last year, he had a hard time getting on the field, but he has gained a lot of confidence, knowing he’s going to be out there every game. So, he relaxed and has performed.”
As for Magallon, the RedHawk says that the secret to his success lies in something he learned from his dad, simply that “hard work always pays off.”
Yet, despite the RedHawks’ success in putting up crooked numbers, the effort from Kalfsbeek on the hill cannot be overlooked.
The tall lefty threw 102 pitches, 72 of which were strikes, in the complete game outing, where he fanned eight, scattered five hits, and issued just a single walk.
“This was my first start on the mound in a section championship game and I’ve been waiting for it all year,” said the University of Washington commit. “I consider these guys to be my family and this one really means a lot to me.”
Having successfully defended their section title, Colusa will next make a return trip to the CIF Regional Championships, which are set to begin on May 30, with the brackets being released on May 28. ■