By Ray Hamill — A thrilling postseason continued for the Arcata Tigers on Saturday night as they secured a third North Coast Section championship in just six postseasons with a 5-4 win over Justin-Siena in the Division-4 final at the Arcata Ball Park.
And they did it with a second walk-off victory in just four days after battling back from a 4-0 deficit late in the game.
There were several heroes on the night for the Tigers, but none more so than sophomore Wilson Medina, who had two clutch RBI hits in the final two innings, including a walk-off blast to left field that scored Will Mager for the win.
“What a game, what a game,” head coach Troy Ghisetti said. “I thought there was a chance for our team to bow their heads and lose focus when we were down 4-0, but that’s been the character of our team all year. They find a way to grind it. You’re not out of the game until the 21st out.”
The 2023 championship follows the section titles Ghisetti and the Tigers won in 2016 and 2019, with no playoffs held in 2020 and 2021.
Long considered one of the best baseball minds on the North Coast, Ghisetti is fast establishing himself and his program as one of the most successful in the section in recent years and his three NCS championships have been achieved with three very different rosters.
“I think it means a lot to our alumni,” the head coach said of the championship. “And it means a lot to our kids. They’re getting better and better.”
Ghisetti readily admits he did not expect to see this year’s team in an NCS final at the start of the campaign, but the players have bought in and displayed a lot of fight, and that continued to be the case on Saturday.
The Braves, who had threatened early in the game, finally broke the deadlock with four runs in the top of the sixth and appeared to have taken control.
It could have been worse for the Tigers, who struggled to get out of the inning after giving up five walks, as the Braves left the bases loaded.
But, if anything, falling behind seemed to spark the Arcata players, who responded immediately and emphatically.
Will Mager was hit by a pitch to reach base with one out in the bottom half of the inning, before an error by the Justin-Siena shortstop allowed Chase Coleman reach first and gave the Tigers two runners on base.
The clutch Anthony Ebert, who had driven in the game-winning run in a walk-off victory over Del Norte in Wednesday’s semifinal, then got the rally started with an RBI single to score Mager.
Medina and Finn Warner followed that with back-to-back RBI singles and you could feel the momentum shifting in front of a large crowd at the Arcata Ball Park.
Two quick outs on fly balls quickly ended the inning, however, with Medina stranded at third and Warner at first.
Miles Oliver took over on the mound in the top of the seventh and quickly retired the final two Justin-Siena batters to leave his team trailing by the narrowest of margins heading into the bottom of the inning.
Ty Ghisetti led off with a walk and then displayed his speed by advancing all the way to third on a well-executed Oliver bunt.
The influential Mager then drove in Ghisetti to tie the game on a hard-hit double off the left field wall that sent the Arcata dugout into a frenzied celebration.
Two batters later, Medina drove home Mager for the win with another base hit to left center field that ended the game in thrilling fashion.
“Medina has been huge for us all year,” Ghisetti said of the talented sophomore, who has come through despite battling injury. “His bat is getting better and better and he’s got a bright future in baseball.”
Warner also had two hits, while Ben Lukens rounded out a seven-hit team performance.
Cline got the start on the mound and threw five strong innings, as the Tigers got out of jams in the second and third with the Braves stranding runners in scoring position in both innings.
Lukens, Mager and Oliver also impressed their coach in relief roles.
“I think all of our pitchers stepped up,” Troy Ghisetti said. “We had some close pitches that didn’t go our way and we stayed focused … The pitchers are doing an excellent job.”
The Arcata coach also believes that playing in such a competitive Big 5 this spring helped prepare his team for the big moment.
The win sends the Tigers onto the NorCal playoffs for the first time and they will find out their seed and playoff opponent on Sunday.
The next game will be their 32nd of 2023, which is the most in a season in program history after the Tigers played a maximum 24 regular-season games, a maximum three Lakin tournament games, and a maximum four in the NCS.