Chris Santiago, left, returns to a jubilant dugout after the De La Salle junior hit a three-run homer in the first inning Friday, May 18, 2018 in Concord to help the Spartans defeat Foothill 11-4 in the East Bay Athletic League championship game. (Darren Sabedra/staff)
CONCORD — On the eve of the East Bay Athletic League championship game, De La Salle junior Chris Santiago put in a little extra work with coach David Jeans, hoping that a few mechanical tweaks would end a recent slump.
The small changes paid off in a big way Friday as Santiago slugged a three-run homer in the first inning to held send the Spartans to an 11-4 victory over Foothill for the league title.
Santiago also pitched the final 2 2/3 innings, a role that eased considerably after De La Salle’s birthday boy, Trace Tammaro, hit a grand slam in the fifth inning to stretch a two-run advantage to six.
The victory was the Spartans’ 17th in their past 18 games.
De La Salle (22-4) will start defense of its North Coast Section Division I championship next week, almost certainly as the No. 1 seed.
What did the win Friday mean?
“It means a lot for today,” Jeans said. “But we want to get after an NCS. I am sure (Foothill) is going to have a good run. We may be seeing them later on hopefully.”
When the teams met during the regular season, the outcome wasn’t decided until De Salle scored four runs in the 10th inning to win 6-2.
Friday, De La Salle scored four runs in the first inning — powered by Santiago’s shot over the left-field fence — but did not put away the Falcons until Tammaro’s big fly over the right-field fence four innings later.
Jeans had an assist in Tammaro’s blast as well, telling the slugger to look for a first-pitch fastball.
The big guy swung at the first pitch.
“Right there I was sitting on fastball the whole time, and I got it,” Tammaro said. “The at-bat before, I came up with the bases loaded, and I didn’t execute. I wasn’t going to miss that one.”
Santiago did not miss his, either, thanks to the tweaks a day earlier.
“It was with my leg kick,” he said. “I kept it down and also catching the ball out in front. I was able to stay with the 0-2 curveball and drive it over the fence. But some guys put some good swings before me to help me get three RBIs there.”
Foothill (20-5) scored twice in the second to cut the deficit to 4-2. Cory Steinhauer drove in a run with a single to center, and Jeremy Lea followed with a sacrifice fly down the left-field line.
De La Salle widened the lead back to four in the bottom of the second, getting two runs on an error.
Foothill made it 6-4 in the fourth, scoring on a bases-loaded double play and Lea’s double to right.
But the Falcons would get no closer.
“We’ve always talked about not winning league and then winning NCS is kind of weird,” Tammaro said. “We’ve always been sort of big on winning EBAL. It’s great to go into NCS doing this. I am really proud of these guys. We all stepped it up today. We had a great game.”