May 30, 2024
David Gonzales' walk-off walk leads Acalanes past College Park 4-3.

LAFAYETTE — With the game on the line, Acalanes junior David Gonzales stepped up to the plate calm, cool and collected.

The Dons had the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth with one out and a chance to complete an unlikely comeback against league rival College Park.

When Gonzales glanced over at his team’s dugout before stepping into the batter’s box, his coach Connor Hornsby pointed to his temple and mouthed the words, “Be smart.”

The outfielder simply nodded and five pitches later, he was jumping into his teammates’ arms.

In stunning fashion, Acalanes came back from a three-run deficit late to beat College Park 4-3 on Tuesday and extend its unbeaten streak to 17 after Gonzales’ walk-off walk in extra innings.

“We always have that comeback mentality,” Gonzales said. “We know if we’re ever going to get down, we know we can come back. We’re never out of a game.”

Acalanes celebrates after winning against College Park 4-3 in the ninth inning at Acalanes High School in Lafayette, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

Acalanes junior Ando Butner had two hits, two RBIs and a double. Sophomore Keegan Goddard had an RBI double.

Branson Smith came in relief in the second inning. He struck out three batters and allowed no runs through seven.

Acalanes’ Branson Smith (19) pitches against College Park in the fourth inning at Acalanes High School in Lafayette, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

“It’s a great win for our program,” Hornsby said. “Hats off to College Park and head coach Andy Tarpley. This win just shows our mentality. We’re the comeback kids and we’re just finding ways to win. It’s not always pretty, but we just find ways to hang in there and scrap.”

College Park got off to a fast start behind solid pitching from Nathan Leffel and a potent offense that got on base.

A big second inning gave the Falcons a commanding lead early. Connor Berkowitz hit a lead-off solo home run, making the score 2-0. Four at-bats later Tino Vasell scored from third on a ground out to give College Park a three-run lead.

College Park’s confidence grew as Leffel retired six straight batters between the fourth and fifth innings. The senior allowed one Acalanes hit in his first five innings pitched.

The Falcons could smell the upset, needing just six more outs to defeat the No. 1 team in the Bay Area News Group rankings and win their biggest game of the season.

But Acalanes had other plans.

With a runner on second, Mason Zirkel ripped a pitch that fell just inches under the center field wall, scoring Goddard to make the score 3-1 in the sixth inning.

Three batters later, Butner singled to center field and scored Gonzales and Benji O’Rourke to tie the game.

“Once we got the first guy on base, we knew our bats were just going to start going,” Gonzales said.

In the top of the seventh, College Park looked like it was going to take the lead back with the bases loaded and one out. But a 6-4-3 double play retired the side and and shot adrenaline into the Acalanes dugout.

Both teams played even in the eighth. After the Dons retired three straight batters in the top of the ninth, Acalanes had its moment in the bottom of the inning.

The Dons had speedsters James Stadt and Mason Zirkel at second and third when College Park decided to intentionally walk Goddard in hopes of turning a double play.

When Gonzales came to the plate, he took the first pitch down the middle and fell behind 0-1. But that would be the last strike he would take as College Park pitched outside the zone four straight times, sending Gonzales to first on balls and brining home Stadt from third to win the game.

As his team celebrated, Hornsby wiped the sweat off his forehead and breathed a sigh of relief as the Dons continued their winning streak.

“We’re just taking these games day-by-day,” Hornsby said about the team’s 17-game run. “17-0 is great, but it’s all about the little things with us and how we show up to the field each and every day at practice.”

For College Park, the emotional loss was a learning lesson.

“I think we’ve been playing really good baseball lately,” Tarpley said. “We’ve notoriously had long battles with Acalanes. But give credit to those guys. They played the game the right way and were just a little more clutch when they needed to be.”

College Park, which dropped to 9-6, 2-1, will have another crack at Acalanes on Thursday at home. Tarpley said the key for the Falcons is to flush Tuesday’s loss down the drain and try to get a win in the second game of the series.

“We got pushed today, but we got to get ready for Thursday,” Tarpley said. “I know they’re young, but they’ll come back.”

Acalanes’ James Stadt (6) gets caught in a pickle in the eighth inning against College Park at Acalanes High School in Lafayette, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 
Acalanes’ Branson Smith (19) pitches against College Park in the fourth inning at Acalanes High School in Lafayette, Calif., on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

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