This week we’re continuing our series of past Nado Natterings columns that reflect some of the better teams in Coronado High School’s rich athletic history. This article is from the June 9, 2010 issue of the Coronado Eagle & Journal Newspaper and provides the highlights of the Islander Baseball program’s third CIF title in five years under Head Coach Sam Ceci. I hope you enjoy the look back from a decade ago.
Coronado High School’s Baseball Team captured the Division IV championship Saturday with a 7-6 victory over No. 1 seed Madison at Tony Gwynn Stadium. The CIF title was the third for the Islanders in the past five years (2006 and 2008) and capped an improbable playoff run, considering the club carried a 9-19 record into the post season.
Baseball players and coaches believe fervently in the concept of ‘The Baseball Gods,’ perhaps better known in civilian circles as ‘karma’ or for the non-believers as ‘superstition.’ It is the very real belief that you don’t wash your game socks if the team is winning or you don’t mention a teammate’s no-hitter for fear the mere acknowledgement of the fine outing will compromise your hurler’s potential masterpiece. Changing your seating location in the dugout during a rally has been known to draw the wrath of the baseball gods.
Without some outside influence, this might have been the playoff run that didn’t happen. Coronado had to come from behind in their play-in game against Horizon. The Islanders found themselves trailing 6-5 entering the home half of the seventh and final inning. Austin Denson singled to lead off the inning, Tyler Brownell hit an opposite field double to score Denson and Kyle Teachout followed with a long single that drove in Brownell for the winning run that advanced the Islanders into the double-elimination portion of the bracket.
At the same time Coronado was battling from behind to win their game, No. 2 seed Santa Fe Christian was losing their play-in game to Calvary Christian of Vista. The loss by SFC opened up the entire bottom half of the bracket for the Islanders. At that point it looked like things just might be going Coronado’s way.
The next playoff game was a relatively easy 5-0 win for Coronado over Calvary Christian, as the Lions were over-matched by the home-standing Islanders. Then Coronado went on the road and defeated No. 3 seed Mater Dei Catholic 7-5. The Islanders held a 7-0 lead at one point, but the Crusaders rallied to make a game of it late.
At the beginning of last week, Coronado was in the enviable position of having two chances to defeat Mater Dei once in the double-elimination format and advance to the CIF Finals. The Islanders made the most of their first opportunity and defeated Mater Dei 3-2 Tuesday. Denson pitched 5.2 innings and yielded only three hits and two earned runs. Steve Preciado retired all four Crusader hitters he faced in relief, striking out two to earn the save.
Offensively, Zack Wheeler and Jack Nicholson had multi-hit games, while Wheeler, Patrick Toomey and Leo Legidakes scored for Coronado. RBIs came from Toomey, Brownell and Ryan Shepard.
As importantly, the combination of the Tuesday victory and the fine pitching efforts from Denson and Preciado meant staff ace Jake Meloche didn’t have to pitch in an elimination game that would have been played Thursday. He was now well-rested for Saturday’s CIF Division IV Final against Madison.
You would think the Baseball Gods would have had enough of the Islanders at this point, but there was much more to come. At 10 a.m. Coronado and Madison faced off at Tony Gwynn Stadium on the campus of SDSU, in front of a good-sized crowd, which included the Baseball Hall of Famer and stadium namesake.
As the lower-seeded team, Coronado was the visiting club and got off to a good start in the top of the first. Wheeler scorched a double to left; Denson moved Wheeler to third by grounding out to the right side of the infield; and Nicholson batting third, grounded out to deep short, scoring Wheeler. A nice small-ball inning resulted in the Islanders taking a 1-0 lead.
Madison answered in the home half of the first inning, sending 10 hitters to the plate and scoring five runs. At one point the War Hawks had four consecutive hits and Meloche was having trouble finding the plate with his offerings. On the other hand, the War Hawks were having no trouble finding his pitches.
Down 5-1, the Islanders didn’t mount much of anything offensively in their half of the second. Madison scratched together two singles, a wild pitch and a phantom balk call on Meloche to score a run in their half of the second. At the end of two frames Madison held a 6-1 lead and your scribe was seriously trying to figure out of the 10-run mercy rule applied to the playoffs.
Then the next in a series of improbable happenings occurred. Sophomore second baseman Ryan Keeney, who had spent most of the season on the Islander JV, singled to open the third inning and the Islanders started a rally of their own. Wheeler followed with a single, Nicholson walked, Brownell singled to drive in two runs and Meloche helped his own cause with an RBI single up the middle. The Islanders now trailed Madison 6-4, but things were looking up.
Meanwhile, the War Hawks, who had trash-talked their way through the game to that point, were now facing a young pitcher in Meloche who had regained his control, his composure and was battling to keep his team in the title game. Over the course of the last five innings, the sophomore lefty faced only 16 Madison batters, one over the minimum. Relying on a deadly mixture of fastballs, changeups and sweeping curves, Meloche now had the War Hawks’ number.
In the Islander half of the fourth, Keeney again led off for the Islanders out of his No. 9 slot in the batting order and reached on an error charged to the Madison second baseman. Wheeler singled, Nicholson drove in Keeney with a well-hit sacrifice fly to left and Brownell drove Wheeler in with a sharp single. The score was now tied 6-6.
The Islanders rallied in the top of the sixth inning, plating what would be the championship-winning run. The ever-present Keeney led off the sixth with a walk, and Denson sacrificed Keeney along to second, which combined with a throwing error on the Madison catcher moved Keeney to third. Nicholson singled to drive in Keeney, which gave Coronado the 7-6 lead.
Meloche at this point was in complete control, facing only three Madison hitters in both the sixth and seventh innings. In the seventh, Meloche faced the 2-3-4 batters in the War Hawk lineup. The first hitter flew out to Denson in centerfield. The next batter grounded the ball to Keeney at second, who threw to Hunter Ralph at first for the second out of the inning. Meloche ended the game by striking out the Madison cleanup hitter
Nicholson represents the final ‘Baseball Gods’ element to fall into place for the 2010 Islanders. Nicholson sustained a broken bone in his foot in a pre-season scrimmage, which caused him to miss virtually the entire season. The senior third baseman was medically cleared to “run in a straight line” one week before the Playoffs. He was cleared for full participation just four days before the Islanders Division IV Playoff run began. Nicholson’s stat line on the day was 1-2 with a walk, a sacrifice fly and three RBIs. For the season, Nicholson had five hits in nine official at-bats for a .556 batting average. None were bigger than his game-winning RBI in the sixth.
“I’m still having a hard time absorbing the championship,” said Islander Head Coach Sam Ceci, nearly 48 hours after the game concluded. “With all of the things that went wrong during the season, it all went right last week. The kids played tough. Meloche settled in and we got some key hits. Madison was flat and they didn’t seem to battle too well. In the Playoffs we went from a below average team to a team that won it all. That’s extraordinary. We’re the Division IV champs. The Baseball Gods were smiling on us Saturday. No one is more tickled than me.”