After cruising through league play and the North Coast Section playoffs, the St. Bernard’s Crusaders faced a much bigger challenge in their NorCal Division-III playoff opener on Tuesday.
And they rose to the occasion with a gutsy team performance against a very good Foothill team, pulling out a 5-4 win.
Playing at Crusader Field, the visiting Cougars battled back from an early 3-1 deficit to tie the game twice, before Nick Dugan drove in Drew Vizenor with a base hit to right center field for what would be the winning run in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Dugan also got the win on the mound in relief of starter Aidan Dorsch, improving to 10-0 in his final high school season and lowering his ERA to 1.00.
“They won with guts and determination,” head coach Matt Tomlin said of his players. “They battled for seven innings against a really good and well-coached Foothill team.”
The win wasn’t the only good news for Crusaders fans.
The top two seeds in the D-III bracket both lost their quarterfinals on Tuesday, meaning the No. 4 Crusaders will host No. 8 Central in Thursday’s semifinal.
And Dugan will be available to start on the mound after throwing just 43 pitches against Foothill.
If the Crusaders win on Thursday and No. 3 Rio Americano falls to No. 7 Alpha Charter in the other semifinal, then St. Bernard’s would host Saturday’s NorCal championship game.
There were several standouts on Tuesday.
In addition to Dugan, who struck out five in 2.1 innings and drove in the winning run, Braeden Zimmerman and Tyler Dimmick were each also outstanding.
Dimmick made three huge defensive plays at second base and also had a big RBI base hit, while Zimmerman, who has been a constant threat in the lead-off spot all year, finished 2-for-3 with two doubles.
Perry Bailey also had an impact.
Playing high school baseball for the first time ever this spring, the senior finished 2-for-3 with a double, while teammate and fellow senior Vizenor was 2-for-4 with an RBI.
Cayden Lee also had a base hit and an RBI, while Dorsch was 1-for-3.
Dorsch pitched 4.2 solid innings for a no-decision and struck out five.
“I though he really battled,” Tomlin said.
The Crusaders, who are a Division-6 NCS team, will now play a Division-I team in the semifinals.
Central High is in Fresno.