Garrett White wasn’t all too sure how it would play out, but when he didn;t scheduled any non-league home games for his Frontier baseball team, the hope was the team would be ready to play the best at the end through adversity faced on the road.
So far, so good.
After receiving the eighth-seed for the Central Section Division I playoffs, the Titans (21-10) upset the No. 1 and No. 4 seeds to reach the championship game Saturday night at Fresno State against No. 6 Clovis (19-11) at 3:30 p.m.
“We had seven home games this season, which were our automatic league schedule home games,” White said. “We had no home games outside of that.”
The road warriors played tournaments in Tulare, Clovis and Sacramento, and likely would have taken the field in a backyard sandlot if need be to get accustomed to playing on the road in the playoffs.
And it’s worked like gangbusters.
Frontier has not given up an earned run in 24 playoff innings, including a 2-1 victory at No. 4 Santa-Maria Righetti in the semifinals on Wednesday in 11 innings.
And it’s been mostly because of the steady arms of Austin Puskaric and Kris Anglin.
“We know that pitching is our strength. The front-end pitching especially,” White said. “We knew going into the season that our success was going to ride on our arms and they’ve stepped up big in the last couple of weeks.”
Puskaric threw a complete-game shutout at home in the opening round in a 4-0 win against No. 9 Visalia-Redwood.
Then Anglin threw a one-hit, complete-game shutout over previously state-ranked No. 1 and top-seeded Clovis-Buchanan in 1-0 affair in the quarterfinals in Clovis.
Before the semifinals, White said he was hopeful that Puskaric could go the distance and save Anglin for the championship, if the Titans were able to win another road game.
And he did that, and more.
Puskaric threw eight innings and gave up just one unearned run against the Warriors. Brennen Fleisher came in for an inning and then Anglin closed it out with two scoreless innings in the marathon contest on the coast.
“It’s cliche, but you have to win every game,” White said. “So it got to a point where you turn to your guy and say, ‘Can you give me one or two (innings), or however many it’s going to take to get this done?’ You have to win or there is no tomorrow and no point in leaving him on the bench.”
Anglin stayed under his allotted pitch count that will allow him to go the distance, if needed, in the finals, and he’s ready for the challenge.
“This is what I work for,” Anglin said. “I work for the those big moments. You have to prepare mentally for these big moments rather than just physically. If you’re mentally prepared, you’re going to show up and be the guy that everyone thinks that you are.”
This is Frontier’s first D-I title game appearance after the Titans won consecutive D-II championships in 2010-11.
Now in his fifth year as the head coach, White will face Clovis coach James Patrick, who will retire after the game after 34 years coaching, including the final 32 at Clovis.
According to section historian Bob Barnett, Patrick has won 755 games and eight section titles for the Cougars. White even remembers watching Centennial, his alma mater, play Clovis in a playoff game in the late 1990s when White was still in elementary school, and Patrick was the Cougars coach.
“Coach Patrick and I were texting back and forth (on Thursday) and I let him know how much I respect him for what he has done,” White said.
While Foothill’s softball and baseball teams are playing in the programs' first section championships this week, Highland is back in the finals for the second time in three seasons. And this is the best season yet for the Scots, taking the field in the D-III championships against No. 12 Atascadero at noon Saturday at Fresno State.
After decades of dormancy, the third-seeded Scots have now reeled off four consecutive 20-win seasons. Those are the only ones for the program that began in 1970.
In 2017 when Highland won the program’s first title over Porterville in the D-III championships, the Scots won 27 games that year.
In the 6-1 victory over No. 10 Nipomo in the semifinals, Highland secured a school-record 28th win to just two losses this season.
Highland’s second-year head coach Mike Garza was on staff with Rick Sawyer two years ago. Now with the team under his control, the added pressure is there, but so is the pride of continuing the new-found glory for the program that has become a mainstay in the playoffs.
“Being the head coach and all of the stuff that you have to go through as far as putting the practice plans and administration stuff that goes behind it,” Garza said. “There is a lot more behind it then just the title of head coach. It’s a special one.”
Foothill game pushed to Tuesday
As for Foothill baseball, the No. 7-seeded Trojans will face No. 1 Bishop Union at 3 p.m. Tuesday for the Division VI title. Because of impending weather, the game was moved from Fresno to Bishop, and then changed to a Tuesday game.
Foothill has been led by first year coach Chris Wedel. The team holds a 13-15 overall record and has recorded wins over Trona (14-0), Fresno Christian (8-4) and Strathmore (4-3) in the Central Section postseason.