LODI – Ripon Christian’s Danny Vander Molen was handed the ball for just his third start of the season Friday night.
He didn’t let the pressure of the playoffs get to him, either.
Vander Molen pitched five respectable innings, but the Knights still came up on the short end of an 8-3 loss during Game 1 of a best-of-three Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI semifinal series at Zupo Field.
“That was a sophomore that threw against the best hitting team we seen all year,” Ripon Christian coach John De Visser said of Bradshaw Christian, the defending section runner up. “In my book — as long as I’ve been coaching high school baseball — that was one of the best pitching performances I’ve ever seen by an (underclassman).
“That shows a lot of poise from a kid that age to control his emotions and still execute his pitches. I’m still impressed.”
After a scoreless first inning, Bradshaw Christian (22-6) struck first in the second frame. Kyle Betts hit a sacrifice fly that scored Austin Ragsdale for the one-run lead.
In the top of third inning, Ripon Christian (12-2 Southern League, 17-9-1 overall) answered back. Vander Molen led off the inning with a single, one of RC’s five total hits. Danny’s older brother, senior Jon Vander Molen, followed with a single of his own to put two runners on the bags with no outs. RC senior shortstop Chris Saenz connected with a RBI double off the left-center wall, which scored Danny to tie the game at one apiece. Jon then crossed the dish after a passed ball to hand RC its first and last lead of the contest.
“We struggled early and (Danny Vander Molen) pitched a great game and kept us off balance a little bit,” Bradshaw Christian head coach Drew Rickert said. “But then the bats came around a little bit.”
BC finished with nine hits and four of those were shots deep to the outfield. After a scoreless fourth frame, Bradshaw recorded three runs in the bottom of five and four more in the bottom of the sixth frame. After RC replaced its starting pitcher, Josh English and Saenz finished the ball game from the bump and gave up six additional runs combined.
In the fifth inning, the Knights committed two costly errors on routine plays.
“We played better baseball for about five innings,” De Visser said. “(Bradshaw) executed when it counted, and that’s the name of the game. When we play tough teams like that we have to execute better. We had a couple errors in the fifth and gave them six outs that inning. With a lineup this strong, you can’t give them any extra outs.”
BC’s Josh Criswell tallied the game-tying RBI that scored Zach Rogers to tie the game at two. Junior Seth Vandergrift smacked a two-RBI double off the right field warning track to make give Bradshaw the 4-2 advantage. In sixth inning, Vandergrift tallied another RBI, as did Craig Heisinger and Rogers to highlight a four-run sixth inning that lasted over 30 minutes.
RC scored its third run of the contest when David Henderson hit a fielder’s choice RBI that scored senior Dominic Nelson to make it a 4-3 contest. That was prior to Bradshaw Christian ripping off four additional scores in the following frame while the Knights’ rotation struggled to locate the strike zone.
“Monday we (could) have a doubleheader,” De Visser concluded. “We have to try to win the first one and wherever that leads us in the second one, we’ll go from there.”
Ripon Christian will play at 4 p.m. on Monday for Game 2 at Zupo Field. A loss could end the Knights’ season but a win would force a deciding Game 3 with the winner advancing to the championship game on May 27.