By Ray Hamill — Despite the disappointment of losing a North Coast Section semifinal on Wednesday, the 2023 Del Norte Warriors made a little bit of history this spring.
The Warriors lost 2-1 in the Division-4 semifinal at Arcata, with the Tigers pulling out a dramatic win on a walk-off base hit in the bottom of the seventh inning.
After the home team broke the deadlock with a run in the third, Del Norte battled back to tie things up when Cooper Maxwell drove in teammate Sylas Sampels in the top of the fifth.
The loss ends a season the Del Norte players won’t easily forget and one that sets them apart from every other Del Norte baseball team.
After opening league play with five straight losses, the Warriors had to win five of their final seven game just to be playoff eligible.
They did that and more.
“We’ve been playing playoff baseball for the last month, and sometimes the train just stops,” head coach Brandon Coborn said after Wednesday’s loss. “But I’m extremely proud of the guys. I was really proud of how our guys just continued to compete. As a coaching staff, that’s all we can ask.”
The Warriors responded to the late-season challenge by taking two of three league games against both Eureka and Arcata to make the NCS playoffs.
And once they got there, they did not disappoint.
They opened the section tournament with a 4-0 win over Fort Bragg to end a six-year playoff win drought for the program.
And they followed that with a very impressive 5-4 win at No. 2 seed St. Joseph Notre Dame in Alameda over the weekend.
They will graduate a talented class of seven seniors from this year’s history-making roster, but the future appears bright for the program with some key pieces in place and a coaching staff that is changing the culture of high school baseball in Crescent City.
Most notably, sophomore pitcher Preston Daniels, who grew stronger as the season progressed and was outstanding on the mound down the stretch.
Daniels, who Coborn believes is already one of the top pitchers in the H-DNL, kept a deep and relenting Arcata lineup in check for most of Wednesday’s game.
He gave up two unearned runs on five hits and no walks in 6.1 innings, while also allowing four free passes on a hit-by-pitch.
Maxwell, who has impressed behind the plate all season, led the offense with a pair of hits in the loss, while Willie Bommelyn, Cole Blackburn and Collin Tromble each also had a base hit.
The coach was more than impressed with how his players developed over the course of the season and how they stayed focused and overcame some adversity during a run that saw them win just one of eight games midway through the season.
“I want to give a lot of credit to the guys,” the first-year head coach said. “When we met each other in February to where we are now, they didn’t just grow as baseball players but they grew as men, and they really learned how to play as a team, and that’s what high school sports is all about.”
The players never gave up.
“We had our backs against the wall and the fight that this group showed as a group showed a lot of character,” the coach added.
Coborn also praised the seven seniors, who “set the standard for Del Norte baseball,” as well as the high school administrators and his assistant coaches, Ross Dickey, Pablo Lorenzi, Jim George, James Garcia and Jeff Cook.