By Joe Davidson
Off the diamond, they're about the nicest collection of leaders you will find in high school sports in this region - all manners, handshakes and lively conversation.
In competition, different story. This is one gritty bunch, and the Elk Grove Thundering Herd will collectively batter you into mush if it rewards them a milestone achievement.
Facing surging No. 2 Davis this afternoon, top-ranked Elk Grove fashioned a 4-0 home victory in a Delta Valley Conference showdown of area aces. Now there's talk of making more room on the outfield fence for yet another banner with bigger prizes yet to chase down in the coming weeks.
With J.D. Davis sparkling with a complete-game one-hitter and striking out 11 - including the side in the last inning to move to 5-1 on the season - the Thundering Herd clinched the DVC crown and a No. 1 seed of for the postseason. It is Elk Grove's eighth league championship in the past 10 seasons under coach Jeff Carlson, whose program now seeks its seventh Sac-Joaquin Section North title in the same span.
A national recruit and hot draft prospect, Davis fired fastballs and was aided by superb defense and a fast opening inning against Davis ace Ben Eckels. Dom Nunez led off with a double and Jorge Vina scored him with a double. Davis drove Vina in with a single for a 2-0 lead. Ryan Tellez, the Herd's imposing No. 4 hitter, had a run-scoring single in the fifth for a 3-0 lead.
Davis, a senior, produced his best pitching outing of the season, and with this guy, every outing is a show, be it at the plate or on the mound.
"We got beat by a man today," Davis coach Dan Ariola said. "He dominated us, and he's got a great defense."
The top of the Herd order frightens foes with Nunez, Vina, Davis and Tellez, and it's the rest of the lineup that understands it needs to keep pace to keep the momentum going. Elk Grove has won 17 of 18 with contributions abound, including outfielders Matt Aday, Andrew Horne and Jerimiah McNeal, second baseman Trevor Hicks, designated hitter Chris Bannister and catcher Cameron Childs, who threw a runner out at second base. J.D. Davis also picked off a runner. And to a man, Herd players look to Davis to lead the charge.
"I felt great today," Davis said. "I was ready to go."
Said Carlson, "He's such a great kid, a nice kid, and he's a competitor, and you could see how much he wanted it today. He just got after it."
As for the defense of Nunez at third and Vina at short, Carlson said, "They're phenomenal, and they work so hard. They love to play the game. They all do."
Eckels struck out eight, facing players such as Tellez, Davis, Nunez and Vina whom he had teamed with in a traveling fall-ball team.
"They're good hitters, good guys," Eckels said. "And J.D. always has a great game."
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