Petaluma High School's baseball team won a game that had much more significance than a Sonoma County League Tournament contest Thursday night, besting Piner's Prospectors, 3-1.
On the line for Petaluma's Trojans was quite possibly a berth in the North Coast Section Division II playoffs. Despite finishing second in the SCL with a solid 9-3 record, the Trojans are just 13-12 overall. A loss to the Prospectors would have dropped them below break-even for the season. That would not have disqualified Petaluma from the playoffs since they had a better than .500 mark in league play, but it would have severely hampered their chances. As it is, Petaluma is not assured a playoff berth, but has considerably increased its chances with the victory.
The Trojans can add another arguing point by beating Sonoma Valley in the tournament championship game tonight at 7 o'clock at Arnold Field in Sonoma. Sonoma Valley earned its spot in the championship game by upsetting league-champion Analy, 4-1, in their semifinal contest.
Petaluma coach Paul Cochrun called on the Trojans' best pitcher, senior Scott Hilbert, to win what might turn out to be Petaluma's most important game of the season, and he came through big time. Relying heavily on a smart-snapping curve ball, he shut the Prospectors down on five hits, walking three and striking out seven, including the side in the second inning.
"The curve was working, and I was having trouble with my change," Hilbert said of his reliance on the breaking ball.
Piner left-hander Dominic Grillo allowed Trojan base runners in every inning, but managed to keep the game under control for the four-plus innings he worked.
Petaluma backed its pitcher with errorless defense, stopping potential trouble with two impressive double plays. One was a classic short (Cameron Meyers)-to-second (Blake Patrick)-to-first (Austin Gabbert) infield twin kill. The other was a strike-um out, throw-um out double play, with Hilbert providing the strikeout and catcher Bubba Thomasen the throw out.
As it turned out, one of the game's big plays happened early when Thomasen grabbed a wild pitch that ricocheted back to him off Arnold Field's close backstop and fired a strike to Hilbert covering home to nail Sonoma's Nilo Formosa to end the first inning.
Petaluma slipped ahead with a run in the bottom of that first inning, scoring on a double to right field by Corey Echols, and a Prospector infield error.
The Trojans may have had more had not Piner third baseman Tony Martignoli shown off his Brooks Robinson impersonation. The sophomore pilfered a hit from Trojan leadoff batter Patrick by leaping to his apex with a perfectly timed jump to snare a drive headed toward left field. Two batters later, he dove to commit his second felony of the inning, stealing both a hit and an RBI from Thomason. Still not finished, he ended the second inning by starting an around-the-horn double play. For the rest of the game, the Trojans avoided hitting the ball in his direction.
Piner broke though for its only run against Hilbert in the fourth inning, tying the game at 1-1 on back-to-back doubles by Martignoli and Bryan Lococo.
A rookie came through in a big way for Petaluma in the bottom of the fourth inning. With runners at first and second following a double to right by Thomason and a pitch that grazed Chase Dunbar's uniform, Cochrun ordered Meyers to move the runners up with a sacrifice, even though it resulted in the second out of the inning and left scoring in the hands of freshman Luke Wheless, playing in his first varsity game after being called up from the junior varsity for post-season play. He delivered a hit to right that plated Thomasen and pushed the Trojans back in front, 2-1.