By Harold Abend


Josh Jannicelli went 4.1 innings to earn his 12th win of the year.

SANTA ROSA, Calif. – Despite making it all the way to the state CIF Northern Regional Division II championship game, Cal-Hi Sports No. 14 ranked and top-seeded Cardinal Newman had not exactly been tearing the cover off the baseball in its first two NorCal wins.

Instead, title-game host Cardinal Newman had been relying on its deep pitching staff to shut down their first two opponents, and coupled that with just enough hitting to produce victories.

That all changed on Saturday afternoon when the Cardinals definitely had their hitting shoes on, and the pitching staff did its job as well. It all added up to Cardinal Newman (28-5) winning the D2 NorCal title over third-seeded Redwood-Larkspur, 10-3 in an all Redwood Empire title-game match-up.

It was the first CIF Northern Regional championship for Cardinal Newman and only the second time a team from the Redwood Empire portion of the CIF North Coast Section has won a CIF NorCal title after Sr. Bernard’s-Eureka won the 2022 D3 championship.

All told the Cardinals rapped out 12 hits with seven coming in an eight-run third inning when Newman sent 11 batters to the plate.

The Cardinals started to hit in the semifinal 5-3 victory over Elk Grove with eight hits, but it was nothing like the explosion of offense in the championship victory.

Prior to the Elk Grove game, the offense had only produced five hits in two of the last three games, both extra inning contests, an eight-inning walk-off 1-0 victory over Redwood in the NCS D2 championship, and another nine-inning affair in their opening round 2-1 win over Chico.

“We started hitting a little bit last game, but we talked about that,” said head coach Derek DeBenedetti about the need to do more hitting.

I told our guys to relax and play the game and be aggressive at the plate,” DeBenedetti continued. “They loosened up and had some fun out there and we supported our pitcher today very well.”

That pitcher was UC Santa Barbara bound junior right-hander Josh Janicelli. Nursing a sore back that everyone knew about, including the Redwood coaches and players, it didn’t stop him from spinning a nearly perfect gem.

Through 4.1 innings Janicelli had given up no runs, a stretch of 11.1 innings against Redwood including the NCS title game, only two hits with two strikeouts and a walk.

The tall Janicelli didn’t use his fastball a lot because that puts more strain on the back, but his breaking ball and slider were spot on. His own gaffe on a attempted putout at first gave Redwood an unearned run, and DeBenedetti relieved him without him saying a word, unlike a couple of other times during the game when he wanted to go on despite his back tightening up. In fact, the bullpen got ready as early as the bottom of the second inning. The bottom line is at that point it was a 10-0 Newman lead.

“Josh is a competitor. He just wanted to keep going out,” DeBenedetti remarked. “We just wanted to be sure if his had too much tightness in his back that we had someone ready.

“That’s what he does, hits his spots and he’s great at that,” DeBenedetti continued. He minimized his pitch count but at that point in the fifth we didn’t need to leave him out there any longer.”

“Redwood is a great hitting team, and I have to give them props by saying they were one of the tougher teams I’ve faced this year, and it took really good pitching out of me but I was on my game against these guys,” said Janicelli, who finishes the season 12-1 with an 0.73 ERA and 116 strikeouts with only 16 walks in 76.1 innings pitched, and who left to a rousing ovation from not only the Newman faithful, but from some Redwood fans as well.

Sam Valenti continued to swing a hot bat as the Newman offense came alive on Saturday.

“Being able to rely on two off speed pitches is great, and they were both working today,” Janicelli continued. “I kept telling the coaches to give me one more inning, I’ll give you all I’ve got and worry about my back later.”

Cardinal Newman began hitting from the very start of the game. After Janicelli   retired the side in order in the top of the first Oregon-committed Tanner Bradley, who had struggled a bit of late, led off the bottom of the frame with a base hit. He stole second base on a ball in the dirt, advanced to third on a wild pitch from Redwood senior starter Chas Veley, and scored on a passed ball.

Bradley also started the eight run rally in the third inning with a one out single and eventually scored the second Newman run. He had a second single in the third but when he tried to come around when the ball got past the right fielder, he was thrown out at the plate to end the inning.    

“We wanted to get the bats going right away,” Bradley remarked. “I feel like that hit in the first set the tone.”   

More than just Bradley wanted to talk about the Cardinals hitting. Perfect game Jack Pezzolo, who spun the perfecto three weeks ago against Vallejo in the NCS playoffs, had his hitting shoes on playing outfield against Redwood. His double drove in Bradley and seemingly opened the floodgates.

“We knew the pitcher was trying throw off speed and trying to keep it down and low in the zone, so if was spinning and dropping down we’re leaving it,” Pezzolo said. “On that double I got a low fastball, saw the spin on it quick and I was able to put a swing on it, and then Sam continued the rally and it went on from there.”

Sam would senior clean-up hitter Sam Valenti. He followed Pezzolo by lining a single that drove in junior Charlie Slater, who walked after the Bradley single, and Pezzolo to make 4-0 Newman. Senior Jacob Moreda followed with a single advancing Valenti to third and that was all for as Redwood head coach Mike Firenzi went to the bullpen but that still didn’t stop things from continuing to go sideways for the Giants.

Redwood reliever Jack Gurley promptly gave up an RBI single to junior Diego Boardman. After Gurley got the second out he gave up a single to senior catcher Konnor Rodnick, but the ball got by the left fielder and Boardman scored and Rodnick came all the way around to make it 8-0 Cardinals. The eight run that made it 9-0 came on error by the right fielder on the single by Bradley.

The tenth and final Newman tally came when Valenti got a two-out single, advanced to second on a single by Moreda, and scored on an RBI double by Boardman.     

“We’ve been thinking too much at the plate but today we didn’t think, said Valenti,. “I told our lineup ‘don’t think at the plate’ and we saw the ball, hit the ball hard and it worked for us.”

Tanner Bradley tries to score by diving over Redwood Catcher Ethan Ferry.

In the frenzy that followed the game we were not able to interview Firenzi, but when contacted early Sunday morning the wily veteran that now has 537 careering coaching win according to the Cal-Hi Sports Online Record Book, took it in stride.

“People don’t realize how hard it is to get here,” Firenzi said. “There are probably hundreds of teams out there that wish they had gotten this far, and we were so close we could taste it, but when a team with the kind of pitching they have puts an eight-spot up on you, what can you do?” Firenzi said.     

Redwood (28-5) got its second run in the sixth inning on a fielder’s choice by Gavin Soper that drove in UCLA-bound senior Rex Solle, who had a one out double off Bradley after he came on in relief of Janicelli. The third Giants run like the first was unearned and came off Boardman, but immediately after the error that scored sophomore Ethan Ferry who had singled to open the seventh, the Cardinals third pitcher of the afternoon got a strikeout to send Redwood into the customary dog pile.

To win a Northern Regional title after three straight NCS championships is a crowning achievement for Cardinal Newman baseball, and for DeBenedetti, a 1994 graduate of Newman that is starting to be recognized as one of the top young coaches in Northern California

“This was a culmination,” DeBenedetti said. “Some of these guys have been here three years and won three sections, and now a NorCal is the final fulfillment of goals and dreams, and to do it with this group to follow up the previous couple of year is pretty special.”       

Cal-Hi Sports has something special in store for Cardinal Newman after it announced yesterday evening on X/Twitter the Cardinals would be named the Division II State Team of the Year. They will also very likely improve their current No. 14 spot in the final rankings.