| August 4, 2021
LINCOLN, CA – Balls were flying in the opening game of the 2021 California Collegiate League (CCL) State Championship. With six home runs between both sides, it was slugfest between the No. 5 Conejo Oaks and No. 4 San Luis Obispo Blues. The Blues were ultimately victorious, 11-2.
SLO starter Matt Sox (Utah) pitched a complete game, striking out 11 and allowing just three hits and two walks in the win. Three players hit two home runs each; SLO’s center fielder Ryan Cermak (Illinois State) and first baseman TJ Clarkson (Utah), plus Conejo’s first baseman Brendan Bobo (Cal State Fullerton).
“Some people get big and want to hit home runs, and that can’t be your approach. You just have to work on getting on top of the ball and driving it hard,” Cermak said, who reached safely in all five plate appearances.
Sox was locked in immediately. He struck out the first two Conejo batters to open the game and retired the third for quick first inning of work.
In the bottom of the frame, Cermak led off with a single to center, but Conejo starter Cody Adcock (Mississippi) dialed in and picked up three outs in a row.
Sox kept dealing in the second inning; the righty retired all three batters. Sox’s first four strikeouts of the game were looking, displaying his excellent command of the strike zone.
“I was really good, and [Blues catcher Austin Schell] was working really hard for me,” Sox said about finding the strike zone. “It’s just about getting ahead and executing what he called.”
The Blues got on the board first, thanks to a solo home run by Clarkson to lead off the bottom frame. Despite walking the next batter, Adcock pitched his way out of more damage.
Blues left fielder Nick Costello made the first highlight defensive play of the championship slate in the top of the third, tracking a TJ Foreman (Austin Peay State) shot all the way to the wall and making a tough grab to prevent an extra base hit.
The Blues got another leadoff home run in the third, this time by Cermak for his second hit of the game. Shortstop Ruben Mercado (San Jose State) followed up with a triple to center field, and was brought home on a sacrifice fly by third baseman Mason Grotto (Fresno State) to make the score 3-0.
The Oaks responded in the top of the fourth, as Bobo sent a solo shot of his own to cut the deficit to two, but Cermak brought the lead back up in the fifth with his second home run of the day. Bobo saw Cermak raise and decided to call; he hit his second bomb of the day, making the score 4-2 in the top of the sixth.
SLO broke things open in the bottom half. Second baseman Austin Kretzschmar (Stanford) responded with an RBI single to score Clarkson and bring the lead back up to three. Cermak was intentionally walked to load the bases, and Mercado delivered with a single to left that scored two; a throwing error allowed Cermak to get home and make the lead 8-2.
To add insult to injury, Clarkson smacked his second home run in the bottom of the seventh, this time a two-run shot to get the Blues to double-digits.
A Grotto RBI single to left made it 11-2 in eighth, and Sox took care of business to secure his complete game win, ending the game with his 11th strikeout of the afternoon.
The Blues move on to face the No. 1 seed Healdsburg Prune Packers at 2:30 pm PST at McBean Stadium.
“We’re gonna go out, eat a little bit, maybe just chill in the bus and the AC, and recoup and just get after it,” Cermak said.
Players of the Game: SP Matt Sox (Utah) & CF Ryan Cermak (Illinois State)
Sox: W, 9.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 11 K
Cermak: 3-4, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 4 R, IBB
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