ORACLE PARK — The final two innings of Wednesday’s AAA Championship were washed out by rain, but the point was made. Even with a sophomore-heavy roster, the Lowell Cardinals were still the team to beat, and no matter what the San Francisco Giants’ field was called, it was their domain.
Though the game was called after the top of the fifth inning as Lowell (21-6) prepared to bat, then celebrated after being signaled as champions by the umpires, the Cardinals’ 5-0 win over Washington was as convincing as it got. Jack Schonherr allowed just one hit and the depth in the lineup stepped up, highlighted by sophomore third baseman Mark Zhu, a semi-regular who made the most of his insertion in the starting lineup with a two-run triple and a double.
“We’ve got a lot of good sophomores on this team and I was lucky to get into the lineup,” Zhu said.
He made manager Daryl Semien’s decision look like a great one right away, knocking in the game’s first two runs with a triple to right in the bottom of the first and scoring the game’s final run in the third after leading off the inning with a double. The pair of runs in the second and run in the third was more than Schonherr needed as he pitched to contact effectively, striking out three. As good as he was at the plate, Zhu was arguably as good on defense, with a sparkling play on a Niko Lanier bunt to end the top of the second and making a tough throw on what would prove to be the final out of the game, capped off by an impressive stretch by first baseman Levi Humphrey.
With back-to-back RBI singles by sophomore catcher Shane Stanley and Cameron Tang in the second, Lowell was up four, and getting in an official game became the only concern. That didn’t stop Washington (12-16) from making a few impressive defensive plays, with a diving catch by Devlin Armas to end the top of the second and a scoop from first baseman Gilbert Diccion in the fourth. Though the Eagles’ fate was decided early and the game’s ending was abrupt, there was no doubt they were happier to play even part of a game on a Major League field than they would have been to squeeze in a full game elsewhere.
“This is exactly what they play for, and this was the carrot that was dangled in front of them,” Washington head coach Brian Jesson said. “Anything less than this would have been a disappointment. I’m happy that they got this experience, especially the seniors.”
Those seniors included starting pitcher James Monterrosa, who lasted just two innings after a heroic performance in a semifinal win over Mission, but with a group of impressive underclassmen back next year, including freshman shortstop Kayne Moody, there’s plenty of reasons for the Eagles to believe they’ll be back in the title game in the coming seasons.
As for the Cardinals, they’ll continue on to the Transbay Series against Oakland Tech, set to begin on Monday afternoon.