CIF NorCal baseball, softball regionals: Five things to watch

We’ll find out in a moment if extending the high school baseball and softball seasons beyond the playoffs is a good thing.

For the first time in its modern era, the California Interscholastic Federation has added NorCal regional playoffs in the sports that will begin this afternoon.

Depending on their strength, 40 teams each were divided into five divisions of eight teams each and will play the games of the first round today, the semi-finals on Thursday and the final on Saturday.

In Bay Area News Group’s coverage area, 10 baseball and nine softball teams advanced, including #1 overall finishers De La Salle (baseball) and St. Francis (softball).

While it may seem difficult to get the competitive juices flowing again after an emotionally charged section playoff, this week’s award will be coveted.

“We want to win NorCal, don’t get me wrong,” De La Salle coach David Jeans said after his team won the North Coast Section Division I title against Foothill on Friday. “Nobody’s ever done that[in baseball]at De La Salle. We want to be the first to do that. Don’t get me wrong, we’ll get it over with.”

Here are five things to keep in mind:

1. Hey baseball teams, what’s your pitching depth?

Section playoffs are stretched out over enough days for baseball teams to survive with two starting pitchers. Not so in the NorCal format. With court numbers limited in the rulebook, teams hosting a championship game on Saturday will likely need to use a third starter, or take a page from the modern big league playbook: bullpen play. In the Division I loaded league, teams in BANG’s coverage area stack up as follows: De La Salle has five pitchers who have pitched at least 23 innings this season, St. Francis, Palo Alto and Valley Christian have four who have pitched at least 20 pitched innings and Foothill has three who pitched at least 39 innings but no one else pitched more than seven. What does that mean? We’ll find out on Saturday.

2. Is De La Salle unbeatable at home?

Oh no. The Spartans are very good at home, where their lumpy diamond has been known to take a bad jump or two or three, but that’s where they can be beaten. In the last five full seasons and one home game in 2020 before the pandemic shutdown, De La Salle is 56-11 on his campus field. The Spartans are 11-3 this season, with losses to Foothill in the championship game of the East Bay Athletic League 1-4, Granite Bay 10-5 and Buchanan 3-2. De La Salle will be home this week as long as it keeps winning. The Spartans are playing Del Campo-Fair Oaks tonight. If DLS progress, it will host fifth-placed Palo Alto or fourth-placed Foothill in Thursday’s semifinals.

3. Why St. Francis wasn’t ranked #1

As you follow the West Catholic Athletic League’s regular-season and postseason tournament championships by conquering the top division Central Coast Section, don’t expect to look up to someone in a playoff bracket. But St. Francis, despite being ranked No. 1 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports and No. 1 in the latest BANG rankings, was clearly placed one spot behind De La Salle by that March 12 result: DLS 5, St Francis 0. St Francis will be home for two rounds as long as they beat Cardinal Newman today but will travel to the DLS when the teams meet last Saturday. DLS rose from a possible elimination from the NorCals to No. 1 when it got the result with two outs in the seventh at Foothill on Friday, and then won the NCS DI Championship with three in the ninth. As it turns out, even with a loss on Friday, DLS, a No. 3 in NCS, would have come in. Petaluma, a No. 3 seed, advanced as an NCS D-II runner-up, along with Foothill (No. 1 seed in NCS DI) and Berean Christian (No. 1 seed in NCS DV). But the NCS bylaws used to select their baseball and softball teams for NorCals cost Marin Catholic, a No. 5 seed in NCS Softball D-II. The section sent their six division champions and three highest-seeded teams below their six runners-up. St. Helena (No. 2 seeded in NCS D-IV) was the last of the three runners-up to advance in softball.

4th game between Joc Pederson and Brandon Crawford

It’s hard to imagine two teams suffering tougher losses in the Section Finals than Palo Alto and Foothill last weekend. Foothill was one of his first NCS titles as De La Salle rallied to win. Palo Alto kept St. Francis scoreless for seven innings but lost 1-0 in the eighth final of the CCS DI. So what has CIF done? They faced Palo Alto (Joc Pederson’s alma mater) and Foothill (Brandon Crawford’s alma mater) in Pleasanton today. This should be the best game of the opening round.

5. St. Francis will win softball today – guaranteed

There will be a St. Francis in Thursday’s Division I softball semifinals, but will it be the first-place Lancers from Mountain View or the eighth-place Troubadours from Sacramento. The teams meet today in Mountain View in the first round, with the winner playing fifth-placed Archbishop Mitty or fourth-placed Sheldon-Sacramento on Thursday. St. Francis-Mountain View (28-2) rallied on Saturday to defeat Mitty 6-5 in the CCS Open Division Finals and lost 6-4 to Sheldon at the Livermore Stampede in April. St. Francis-Sacramento (26-4) had won nine straight games before losing to Del Oro-Loomis 10-9 in last week’s Sac-Joaquin Section D-II final. The Troubadours are 2-0 to Del Oro and 2-0 to Sheldon this season.

Extra Innings

– By the standards of Valley Christian’s high standards for the baseball diamond, this has been a pretty bad year. The Warriors didn’t win the WCAL and their four seasons as CCS champions ended in a 7-0 loss to Palo Alto in the DI Semifinals last week. But the Warriors are certainly capable of heating up this week. They are the sixth seed in Division I and open today at Whitney-Rocklin. If Valley wins, they could play at the St. Francis on Thursday.

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