SAN MATEO - Josh Silver took two years off from college academics and the baseball grind to rediscover himself and grow as a man. Silver missed it too much to stay away, and his return to the sport has been a significant story line for the surging Cosumnes River College Hawks this improbable season.
The sophomore shortstop from Franklin High School in Elk Grove roped three hits, including two towering doubles, and played more superb defense in inching CRC closer to a bit of school history.
With ace Austin Ales tossing seven consecutive shutout innings and allowing four hits, the Hawks clubbed City College of San Mateo 8-1 on Saturday afternoon in a winner's bracket Northern California Community College Super Regional playoff.
San Mateo (31-11) eliminated Diablo Valley later Saturday 5-2 in a double-elimination finale and now must beat CRC twice today here to deny the Hawks their first Super Regional title in school history.
CRC (24-15) has been in a Super Regional in seven of the past eight seasons, the most of any team in the North. Now they want that one elusive milestone victory.
"It's all coming together and we know that we've got more to do," Silver said, adding that he is delighted to be a student/athlete again. Silver played one season at San Jose State after his prep career before the hiatus.
"I couldn't stay away," Silver said. "I'm a better player, more mature. And it's fun."
Fun also comes in the form of watching Ales work. The freshman from Oak Ridge struck out four and moved to 10-2 on the season with a 1.10 ERA. With Silver and centerfielder Colby Brenner, CRC often makes spectacular plays.
"Silver's the best shortstop I've ever coached, and Brenner is so good out there," CRC coach Tony Bloomfield said. "And Ales - that's our guy. Poised and confident, that's what you want. He looks like a polished veteran out there."
Ales will only be at CRC this season. He will go on a yet-to-be-determined Mormon Mission starting in the fall.
"It's something I really want to do and something I'm ready for," Ales said. "But it'll be hard to leave. We've had so much fun this year."
Bryan Case had two hits and three RBIs for CRC. CRC took a 3-1 lead in the first inning on three hits and two errors. Brenner had an RBI to make it 7-1 and Silver an RBI double for an 8-1 lead in the CRC sixth.
The Hawks are attempting to become the first team to win a Super Regional without the benefit of having a single practice or game at home. CRC is undergoing a massive facilities upgrade.
* Sierra 5, Fresno City 4 - Trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning with two outs at Feather River College, Brad Gerig crushed a two-run home, and Ryan Millison tossed his first complete game to put the Wolverines a win away from the program's second Super Regional championship since 2008, when they won the state championship.
Gerig had a bottom-of-the-11th homer to eliminate Laney of Oakland in a Regional playoff opener a week earlier. This time, Wolverines coach Rob Willson cq fantasized about more heroics.
"I swear, I called both his majestic bombs and I do not say that every pitch or opponent," Willson said. "This one was a no-doubt bomb."
Sierra finished second to CRC in the Big 8 Conference, which is looking to produce its fourth state champion since 2004. Sierra and CRC are a combined 8-0 in the playoffs this season.
- By Joe Davidson
Follow on Twitter: @sb_joedavidson
Bee file photo of Tony Bloomfield by Andy Alfaro