The Del Norte baseball team found itself in a hole that it couldn’t quite get out of — despite a big last-ditch effort in the bottom of the seventh — and No. 10 St. Mary’s was able to advance to the North Coast Section Division IV quarterfinals with an 11-6 win over the No. 7 Warriors in the first round of the playoffs.

The Panthers were able to take advantage of a couple Del Norte mistakes in the field and seemed to be a quarter step faster than the Warriors on every close play as St. Mary’s scored three runs apiece in the second, third and fourth innings to jump out to a 9-1 lead.

“The close plays, when you don’t get them it is kind of deflating to you and things can start to snowball a little bit,” said Del Norte head coach Travis Johnson. “When you get a close play that changes the whole inning. I was kind of disappointed that we didn’t get some of those calls, but that is just the way that it goes.”

On offense, Del Norte managed to get runners on base in every inning except for the sixth. The Warriors struggled to bring runs around however, with a couple potential RBI base hits landing just foul, and a couple more nice fly balls snuffed out by diving Panther outfielders.

“Not too many things went our way until the very end,” Johnson said. “We had some chances to get some hits off of their starting pitchers, but those guys made some really nice plays in the outfield and the infield. My hat is off to them.”

St. Mary’s pushed its lead to 11-2 with a pair of runs in the fifth inning.

Facing a nine-run deficit with just three outs remaining in the season, Del Norte was able to buckle down and finally break through for a big inning.

Cole Harper lead off with a single followed by a walk by Ryan Janiero and an infield single by Sebastian Puente to load the bases. Kaden Ritter then sent a sacrifice fly ball to left field to bring Harper in to score.

AJ Schultz managed to load the bases back up with a ground ball that St. Mary’s’ shortstop misplayed, and OJ Calleja knocked in another run on a ground out to third base.

Giovanni Gonzalez kept the inning going with a single to left field to cut the lead down to 11-5 and Schultz came in to score on a passed ball in the next at bat for the fourth run of the inning.

“I thought it showed a lot of heart,” Johnson said. “The kids could have just rolled over, packed up and gone home, but they came around at the end and made the coaches over on the other side have to start thinking about some changes. If we could have gotten one or two more hits in that inning then we are right there. They just showed a lot of heart, and that they really wanted to make it a close game and to go out on a high note for the seniors.

“It wasn’t the game that I was hoping for, but I’m happy with the way they finished the game.”

Johnson said that type of fight with the odds stacked against them is what he will likely remember most about this year’s team.

“They are a group that doesn’t quit,” he said. “They don’t give up and they play their hearts out. We have been undermanned for most of the year in a few different spots and we lost some guys, so I think they achieved a lot overall. We are still a fairly young team, so I’m pretty proud that we were able to make the playoffs.”

With the loss, Del Norte wraps up the 2018 season with a 13-12 overall record. The Warriors will also be saying goodbye to their six seniors.

“They have meant a whole lot to us. The six of them are our heart and soul. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have even been here. They showed a lot of character this year — they were good leaders.”

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com .

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