The Franklin Wildcats wowed nobody down the stretch of the regular season, certainly not themselves.
Third place finishers in the Delta Valley Conference behind Davis and Elk Grove with a 14-13 overall record, the Wildcats have found a new gear in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I-North playoffs.
They bounced Rodriguez of Fairfield 13-0, eliminated Delta River League champion and Bee No. 4 Oak Ridge 4-1, sent home DVC champion and Bee No. 1 Davis 12-3, and on Thursday ushered home Bee No. 5 Pleasant Grove 6-1 at Sacramento City College.
Cameron Keup was superb on the mound, as he was in beating Rodriguez, the defense was again strong, Kyle Zanzi had two hits and catcher Nick Frei had two hits and three RBIs to put the the Wildcats (18-14) into Friday's title game against Elk Grove (26-5).
Franklin pulled this late-charge feat last season, placing third in the DVC then bouncing teams right and left in roaring to the North championship.
Franklin has to beat the Thundering Herd twice to take the title through the loser's bracket. Elk Grove beat Franklin 9-6 earlier in the tournament.
"This is what it's all about," said Franklin coach Bryan Kilby, The Bee's Coach of the Year last season. "We have the opportunity."
Keup tossed a six-hitter and five consecutive shutout innings to start with a lot of off-speed pitches in keeping the Eagles off balance in moving to 6-3.
Keup's brother Brandon started the North D-I title win over Davis last season. Now a student at San Jose State, Brandon was in the Sac City seats in brotherly support.
"He did great," Kilby said. "A lot of ground-ball outs, threw a lot of strikes."
Keup is a 4.1 student, a quiet fellow with a good sense of humor and a hearty reddish beard brewing. It's a playoff growth, and it won't come off until the season is over.
"I was calm and the nerves melt away," Keup said. "We're excited to play (Elk Grove). We're the team nobody wants to play."
Franklin is playing with a lot of confidence, throughout the lineup. It starts with leadoff man and star shortstop Hank LoForte, and continues down the lineup of Gabe Abelia to all-time program home run leader Tyler Blake, to Zanzi, Jacob Burkhalter, Sean Nicholson, Payton Simmons, Frei and Damien Chavez.
Pleasant Grove (24-9) bows out after tying for the DRL. A young team, the Eagles bid a fond farewell to one of the program's all-time greats in Josh Adams, who overcame a slow start to dazzle down the stretch as a pitcher and hitter. He is headed to UC Santa Barbara.
A ton of players return next season for coach Rob Rinaldi, including shortstop Bronson Grubbs, catcher Nico Toni, outfielder Beau Boyle, pitchers Dalton Gomez and Brett Elgin and ace Matt Stafford.
"Wasn't our night," Rinaldi said. "It was a good year. though."
- Joe Davidson
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