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Greene Academy outlasts Ripon Christian in title-round slugfest
Ripon Christian-Greene Academy baseball
Ripon Christian shortstop Josh Crivello tags out Greene Academy’s John Gould in a rundown. - photo by SEAN KAHLER

 Ripon Christian had two five-run leads and one of its top two pitchers on the mound for each, but that wasn’t enough to keep defending champion Leroy Greene Academy at bay.

The Sacramento-based Lions prevailed 12-11 in the barnburner of a Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI final at Islanders Field in Lathrop, getting an inside-the-park grand slam from Drew Perry and a gutty two-way effort from Korey Ramson.

Second-seeded Greene Academy (23-4) took the lead for good with a seven-run onslaught in the bottom of the sixth inning.

“They’re really, really, really good,” Ripon Christian coach John de Visser said. “We knew coming in that it was going to he an absolute heavyweight bout. Both teams just kept punching each other, and it was literally, who was going to be less bloody at the end? We didn’t make it in the end.”

The No. 2 Knights (22-9) were a worthy foil from start to finish. The 2023 Division VII champions moved up in class after claiming the outright Southern Athletic League title.

Trailing by two in the top of the seventh, Grant Sonke led off with a walk, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on a throwing error as he stole third base.

The Knights were in prime position to at least tie the game with runners on the corners and one out, but Greene Academy catcher Eddie Ames came up with a clutch a backdoor pickoff throw to get Josh Buffalow at out first base.

David Koolhaas kept the Knights alive with a walk, but Lions closer J.J. Salazar got Luke Crivello to pop out to left to seal his team’s second-straight championship.

Ripon Christian had two other momentum-killing miscues on the base paths earlier in the game.

“They executed one more play than we did,” de Visser said. “And that was it. If we get that safety squeeze down (with runners on) first and third and one out, K.J. (Kayden Anderson) is going to score and it’s a tie game. We were a play away from maybe even getting the lead back.

“When it comes down to a game like this against a team that good, you’ve got to execute. You can’t afford to have mistakes like that.”

Both teams struggled dealing with the windy conditions in the outfield, leading to some of the game’s biggest hits.

But there was no wind needed for the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Perry when he got a hold of one during Greene Academy’s decisive sixth inning.

Ripon Christian had just retaken the lead at 10-5 with a five-run rally in the top half and had ace pitcher Dustin Hoekstra take the mound in relief.

Gould ignited the Lions with a leadoff double and was driven home on a single by Andrew Moralez, who was a defensive substitute for an outfielder in the top of the sixth.

The bases were eventually filled with one out before Perry’s big knock that was inches away from clearing the center-field wall. The ball took a big bounce off the wall away from RC center fielder Logan Sauer, and it was enough to give the burly Perry a chance to leg out the game-tying grand slam.

Ramson then doubled and scored the go-ahead run on Gould’s second base hit of the inning.

Ripon Christian’s defense committed two of its four errors in the sixth inning, leading to two unearned runs.

“He’s been my guy since his freshman year during COVID, beating Oakdale and Central Catholic,” de Visser said of Hoekstra. “He’s done it before, this was just going to be an offensive day. There were a couple mistakes made and we left some outs out there.

“Defensively, you cannot do it against a team this good. When you’re in collecting-outs mode and you’re not collecting outs, it’s going to bite you.”

Perry finished 2 for 3 with three runs, while Ramson was 4 for 4 with two doubles, a triple, three runs and three RBIs to lead Greene Academy’s 13-hit assault.

Ramson was also the winning pitcher after he replaced Perry on the mound in the second inning. He battled through seven walks and four hits and struck out 10 in 4 2/3 innings. Salazar got the final two outs to lock down the save.

“We knew that Ripon Christian was going to be tough,” Lions coach Jesse Russell said. “The message in practice in preparing for this game was that we know they were going to punch, we just have to respond.

“These boys, all credit to them, they did not give up and never stopped fighting. The goal was just to keep chipping away each inning and then put up the crooked number. We had that big seventh where the hits were contagious. They just caught fire. This is a resilient group, and now they’re back-to-back champs. They deserve all the credit for the hard work and the effort.”

Ripon Christian’s five senior starters all had productive final outings.

Sonke sparked the Knights’ four-run first inning by smacking a sharp single up the middle on the first pitch of the game. He finished 2 for 4 with two runs, two steals and two RBIs.

Fellow seniors David Koolhaas (1 for 1, two runs, double, three RBIs), Anderson (1 for 3, two runs, double), Crivello (2 for 4, two runs, two RBIs) and Hoekstra (1 for 3) also chipped in offensively. Freshman Noah DeBruyn drove in three runs.

Crivello also pitched the first 4 2/3 innings, striking out seven against seven hits and no walks.

“I can’t say enough about my team,” Sonke said. “We had a lot of grit. Early in the game, we started off hot and it looked like it was going our way. We had the momentum, but that is a really good team — they can swing it really well.

“Our pitchers did incredible. Luke and Dustin just faced a really good team. I couldn’t be more proud of them, it just wasn’t our day.”

Crivello missed out on a chance to win a third SJS championship pennant this year after helping the football and boys basketball teams do so in the fall and winter seasons, respectively. He believes the Knights will remain competitive even as they move into the daunting Trans-Valley League next year.

“At the beginning of the year, we struggled pretty bad but then we picked it up,” Crivello said. “Coach John does such a great job. We were struggling offensively (early in the season), and we just dropped 11 on a really good team.

“I’m proud of the team, and it will still be in good hands next year.”