By Ray Hamill — The Crusaders are going where no H-DNL team has ever gone before, but that’s nothing more than they expected.
At the start of the 2022 season, this senior-heavy and confident St. Bernard’s roster embraced the goal of winning a CIF NorCal championship in the first-ever state playoffs.
And after a comprehensive 8-0 win over Central High at Crusader Field on Thursday, they’ll become the first H-DNL team to get that opportunity when they play in the NorCal Division-3 championship game.
Not only that, but as the No. 4 seeds they’ll get to play for that championship in front of a home crowd after No. 3 seed Rio Americano lost 11-1 to No. 7 Alpha Charter in Thursday’s other semifinal.
“This is special,” head coach Matt Tomlin said. “We’ve talked about a state championship from the start of the year, and we felt it was a bit of a punch to the gut when we got moved up to Division 3 (for the NorCals).
“But the bigger they are the harder they fall, and right now I think my guys feel they could beat the New York Yankees.”
And that just tells half the story.
This was a Division-6 North Coast Section team decisively handling a Division-2 team from the Central Section. A school of less than 160 students rolling over a school of more than 4,200 students.
The SB pitching has excelled all season and continued to do so on Thursday, with Nick Dugan throwing another gem in what could be his final high school start.
The Stanford-bound senior threw a one-hitter for his 11th victory of the season, leading the Crusaders’ to their fourth shutout in five playoff games.
Dugan pitched 6.2 innings for the win, while allowing just one hit in the second inning and striking out nine.
“I’ve seen some special moments out of Nick since he was 14 and playing American Legion and this game was right up there,” Tomlin said. “That was a talented Division-1 team with a deep roster and he made it look easy.”
The hard-throwing Dugan got as high as 93 MPH with his fastball and was still throwing in the 90s in the seventh inning.
“He’s MVP of our team and MVP of our league, and there’s a reason he’s going to Stanford and that he could be a first-round draft pick,” Tomlin said. “He maintained that velocity for seven innings today and that curve ball was electric.”
Dugan got plenty of offensive support, with the Crusaders scoring runs in each of the first four innings to open up an eight-run lead and end the game as a contest long before the final out.
Six different Crusaders accounted for 10 hits.
Drew Vizenor got the party started in the first inning, setting the early tone with an RBI double that scored lead-off hitter Braeden Zimmerman, who was hit by a pitch to get on base.
The home team would add two more runs in the second and four more in the third to quickly take command of the game.
Jeran Ford had an RBI double, one of two hits on the day for the senior catcher who made a timely return on defense for the state playoffs after missing the NCS playoff run behind the plate because of a thumb injury.
Ford had a monster game and reached base all three times he went to bat, while also stealing a base and scoring twice.
For good measure he also threw out a pair of base runners at second base.
“Today was his best game of the season,” Tomlin said. “Him and Nick worked really well today.”
Perry Bailey hit a big two-RBI double, as he continues to impress in his first season playing high school baseball, while Tyler Dimmick also had an RBI hit and pitched the final out of the game after Dugan was pulled late because of his pitch count.
Dimmick has stepped up his game at the perfect time.
“Tyler Dimmick has had his two best games of the season in the state playoffs,” Tomlin said. “He’s been making outstanding plays at second base.”
Dugan also had two hits and drove in a run, while Vizenor continued to impress and finished 2-for-4 with two doubles.
Peyton Smith and Zimmerman each also had a base hit.
The Crusaders will now play Alpha Charter for the Division-3 championship in a game that is tentatively scheduled for 4 p.m. on Monday at Crusader Field.
It remains to be seen if the expected rain will push the game back, but one way or the other the Crusaders will now get the chance to play for a NorCal championship.
That’s a goal they’ve had all along and one that remains alive as they head into the final high school game of the season.