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The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Re-in-STATE-ed! City baseball team reaches State Championship with win over Sierra College

City College baseball coach Derek Sullivan is a recipient of the celebratory water cooler bath after the series-clinching victory May 20 at Sierra College that allowed the Panthers to return to the state championship tournament for the first time since 2007. | Photo by Dianne Rose | [email protected]

Nick Pecoraro

Sports Editor

[email protected]


With their backs against the wall, facing elimination in their final two games in the CCCAA Northern California Sectional Finals, the City College Panthers held onto a 2-1 victory over host Sierra College for a chance to play in the State Championship.

After losing an ugly Game 1 Friday, City bounced back to win Game 2 Saturday and Game 3 Sunday behind invaluable pitching performances to secure a spot in the state’s final four in Fresno this weekend.

Carlos Salaiz, making just his second pitching appearance since April 24 and his first start since March 30, got the nod for the Panthers in the decisive Game 3 Sunday. Salaiz showed no signs of rust, however, throwing six scoreless innings, scattering five hits and three walks. Salaiz struck out two and, more importantly, stranded all eight baserunners he allowed.

Despite the time off in between starts, Salaiz shook off nerves after a message of trust from his coaches inspired him to throw well Sunday.

City College Game 3 starter Carlos Salaiz throws six shutout innings May 20 at Sierra College to help the Panthers advance to the state championships. | Photo by Dianne Rose | [email protected]

“Of course, there were butterflies and nervousness going out there as a freshman,” said Salaiz. “They told me before the game, ‘You’re no longer a freshman. You’re just a part of the team that’s going to move on.’ I took that to heart, and now we’re going to Fresno.”

In a scoreless top of the third inning, Salaiz’s support came from sophomore center fielder Creed Smith, who delivered a line-drive home run that just barely snuck inside the left field foul pole above the 347-foot sign, giving the Panthers a 2-0 lead.

Sierra pushed a run across in the bottom of the seventh on a sacrifice fly from Big 8 Conference MVP Dylan Smethurst, but City reliever Daylon Matthews induced a ground ball to leave the frame with the Panthers still up by a run. Matthews left the game with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth, but his replacement, Adam Erickson, threw one pitch to get an inning-ending grounder, keeping the score 2-1 Panthers into the ninth inning.

City entered the bottom of the ninth with the same 2-1 lead against the team with the third highest batting average in California. Sierra had runners on first and second with one out and the heart of the order coming to bat. Erickson, no stranger to pressure situations as the Panthers’ closer, got another groundball that ended up as the game-ending double play—Joe McNamara to Daniel Walsh to Jake Guenther—sending the City dugout into a frenzied infield celebration.

“That’s what we came here for,” said Erickson, who was also quick to credit his starter, Salaiz, for getting the team to that point. “We know he’s big time. He stepped in in a big situation. We needed that.”

The trip to Fresno City College from May 26–28 will be the Panthers’ first to the state finals since 2007. It is the first for head coach Derek Sullivan in his six years as the skipper of the Panthers.

“This is as excited as I’ve ever been for a group of guys,” said a teary-eyed Sullivan, who earned his 153rd career victory at City College, moving him past Jack Woerner, City’s skipper from 1946–’53, for fourth on the all-time win list for Panther baseball coaches.

In January, Sullivan spoke of a three-year process to get back to “Sacramento City standards” as a baseball program. After two seasons of adjustment in philosophy—rather than actual baseball technique—the 2018 season has been year No. 3 in Sullivan’s process and has proven to pay great dividends.

City College sophomore pitcher Ben Purcell threw seven innings and allowed zero earned runs May 19 to force a decisive Game 3 against the Sierra College Wolverines. | Photo by Dianne Rose | [email protected]

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“It’s magic,” said Sullivan. “My third-year guys were around for the rebirth. This program has had unbelievable success, but it’s so hard to do it again. It’s so hard. We had a chance last year, but to get back and have another chance and push through… We played like Sac City guys from any generation today.”

A year ago, City was in an identical position—one win away from a state championship berth—only to have the season come to an abrupt end. The returning players from last year’s team remember the feeling and are grateful to have a chance at redemption this year.

“That’s just the Sac City mentality, just bouncing back,” said Game 2 winner Ben Purcell. “We’ve got a lot of guys from that team last year that had that experience. We had that edge coming into this game. We felt that heartbreak. We know what it’s like to be down. Now we’re on a high, and it’s all worth it.”

Friday’s 14-3 Game 1 loss at Sierra College is one that the Panthers would like to erase from their memories as City recorded more errors than they did hits. City committed six costly defensive miscues, including three on the same play in the bottom of the sixth. Sierra had the bases loaded, and a potential double-play ball turned into three Panther throwing errors, allowing all four runners to cross home plate.

“That one particular play was about as bad a play as you’ll see in the game of baseball,” said Sullivan. “It’s so bad that you have to smile about it.”

There were plenty of smiles in the City dugout after Game 2 as Purcell, who has won five of his last six starts for the Panthers, tossed seven innings without allowing an earned run. Jaylund Johnson made up for a costly throwing error and an 0-for-5 performance at the plate on Friday with a 2-for-4 showing Saturday, including an RBI double as part of a three-run third inning for the Panthers.

City College center fielder Creed Smith gives head coach Derek Sullivan a bear hug May 20 at Sierra College after the 2-1 victory sends the Panthers to the state tournament. Smith’s two-run homer in Game 3 was the difference in the series-clinching victory. | Photo by Dianne Rose | [email protected]

Saturday’s 4-1 win forced a Game 3 Sunday against the Big 8 Conference Co-Champion Wolverines (35-12), who entered the series boasting 10 All-Conference players this season as well as the league’s Co-Coach of the Year, Rob Willson.

“We’ve got a lot of confidence in ourselves,” said Guenther. “We don’t really think about who’s up there (against us). If there’s a job to do, we get it done—stick to everything that’s got us here. We know exactly what the formula is. There ain’t no secret sauce. It’s basically just playing for the next guy. That usually works out for us. Make sure we represent this jersey.”

One particular jersey that’s been represented all season for the Panthers is that of a fallen former teammate. Smith said the presence of the late J.R. Santiago, a team member from a year ago who died Jan. 16, was felt when Smith hit the home run that gave City the 2-0 lead Sunday.

“He was with us,” said Smith, who pulled from his pocket a personal memento he keeps of Santiago. “I had my buddy in my back pocket the whole day.”

Santiago’s No. 14 jersey often hangs in the City dugout during home games. An image of the jersey number has also been a part of the feature photo for the team’s Twitter account all season long.

“I’m just glad (Santiago) is still inspiring guys,” said Sullivan. “A lot of guys were really close to him. It just makes me smile that we’re honoring him…I know for a fact Creed Smith felt inspired, and he played that way today.”

City (33-14) defeated Chabot College in the opening Regional round in two games before defeating Fresno City College in two games in the Super Regionals. Sierra’s trip to the Sectionals went through Butte College in three games and Mission College in two games.

The other teams reaching the CCCAA final four are Big 8 Co-Champion San Joaquin Delta (40-8) from the North, and Mt. San Antonio (35-12) and Orange Coast (33-13), whom the Panthers will play Saturday, from Southern California. The double-elimination state tournament is May 26–28 at Fresno City College.


For more info on SCC baseball, visit

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