No. 1 Grass Valley prepared to go all out in American Legion District tourney |

No. 1 Grass Valley prepared to go all out in American Legion District tourney

Walter Ford/
Walter Ford/ |

The boys of summer from Grass Valley have done exceptionally well on the baseball diamond and have earned the No. 1 seed in the American Legion District Tournament.

The tourney features a double-elimination format and begins today at Ted White Field at Nevada Union High School.

For the Grass Valley Miners (17-4), Jakob Freele, Joey Souza, Noah Arriaga, Garrett O’Callaghan, Nolan Fillman and Conner Upton all have .300 batting averages or better, and Souza has proven to be a dual threat for Grass Valley, anchoring the squad on the mound and at the plate. The ace has a 5-0 record, one no-decision and a 2.63 ERA. He has led the team offensively, batting at around a .600 clip.

“I’m hoping these guys can all click at the same time, and it works out,” said manager Jim Souza. “We’ve got the table set with big hitters. We look good on paper. Anyone can win any given game. When Joey (Souza) gets into these kind of games he has a different personality. He’s more quiet, but he’s been clutch for me. He’s started to hit for power with a couple of homers this year.”

This Grass Valley club has been tested throughout the season against a wide range of opponents in various tournaments and knows not to underestimate anyone.

“That was a lesson the team learned earlier this season when Bear River took the lead on us,” said Jim Souza. Grass Valley battled back to win 8-4, but it was a real eye-opener for the players since they had taken the first two games of the series in dominating fashion, added Jim Souza.

Should the Miners win the District, it will be their second consecutive title. They certainly have the talent to advance to the Area Tournament again, which is slated for July 25-28 in Vacaville. To accomplish this, Grass Valley will likely need to go through a tough El Dorado squad that has already beaten it twice this season but not without some controversy.

El Dorado would have been the overall No. 1 seed going into the District tourney but was forced to forfeit several games, including two wins against Grass Valley, because of an ineligible player who was 18 years of age, Jim Souza said.

“El Dorado went from like 10-1 to 4-6,” said Jim Souza. “It was quite a few games. They dropped to the No. 3 seed.”

Grass Valley wrapped up its season with a three-game sweep of Placer as it outscored its opponent 34-3 and then edged El Dorado in its final game 6-5 with Tristan Cook’s go-ahead RBI single. Also in the tournament are No. 2 seed Placer and No. 4 seed Bear River. Del Oro, which was part of the league this summer, opted out of the tourney when the season started. Nonetheless, it’s still going to be a tough road ahead for the Miners, who hope to capitalize on their home-field advantage.

“El Dorado doesn’t give up,” Jim Souza said. “They’re well coached, and they’ll nickel and dime you with bunts, a suicide squeeze — they pull out all the stops and make us stay on our toes.”

As manager of Grass Valley, Jim Souza understands the importance of using his more experienced veteran-caliber players in the high-pressure games. Another match with El Dorado seems to be inevitable.

“We’ll try to save our best pitching for later,” explained Jim Souza. “Not to take away from our other guys, but we’ll throw our senior players against El Dorado. They’ve pitched against them. You can’t make mistakes. They’re going to capitalize.”

El Dorado, which opens against Placer, does not have an easy task at hand either. Placer has beaten El Dorado once in a one-run game earlier this season and lost the other two games by a close margin.

“Placer is confident they can give (El Dorado’s) guys a game,” said Jim Souza, who spoke with Placer’s coach. “It depends who shows up.”

It’s no strange circumstance for Grass Valley though, as it’ll open against cross-county rival Bear River. The Miners’ Joey Souza, Cook, Zach Garrity and Dylan Conger will each be entering their senior year of high school this fall and will be the guys who need to provide the leadership if the team is to succeed.

It all starts on the practice field, and this week has been a pleasant experience thus far.

“We’ve been upbeat at practice,” added Jim Souza. “Guys are relaxed and hitting it out of the park. We need to take the same mentality into the game, and we should have no problem. If they can produce, it’s going to be tough for the opposition to deal with.”

Pitcher Christian Straub will get the start for Grass Valley versus Bear River, and he will be caught by Conger.

“I let my guys pick who catches them,” said Jim Souza “Conger and Straub worked together on junior varsity. Conger started at catcher in the last game against El Dorado and had two doubles off the wall in left-center and on defense threw a runner out attempting to steal third. Brady Porter has gotten his swing back the last few games, too.”

Looming in the bullpen for the Miners is reliever Chris Sardo, who, according to Jim Souza, has some real pop on his fastball, a filthy curve and a rubber arm that enables him to go on short rest.

The District tourney kicks off with three games Thursday at Nevada Union and goes through Saturday. Grass Valley opens versus No. 4 seed Bear River at 10 a.m. Game 2 is between No. 2 seed Placer and No. 3 seed El Dorado with first pitch scheduled for 1 p.m. The losers of Game 1 and Game 2 will meet at 4 p.m. Friday’s games are at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., and the championship is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday.

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