Garcia pitches shutout in semis to send Central Catholic back to section D-III title game

After fighting through an injury that forced him to miss time on the mound earlier this season, it was only right that Adrian Garcia got the ball Wednesday.

Central Catholic coach Danny Ayala put Game 2 of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section semifinals series against Oakdale in the senior pitcher’s hands.

“It felt really good,” Garcia said of the ability to secure the win. “I’ve been working through this all season. Had a little injury setback in the beginning, but we’re back here better than ever.”

The Fresno State-bound pitcher delivered. He pitched a complete game shutout with seven strikeouts and allowed just three hits, powering the Raiders past their Valley Oak League rival, 3-0. With the win, Central Catholic sweeps the series and advances to its second Division III section title game in as many years.

“Not everyone believed we’d make it this far after we lost a great player in Braxton Thomas, so it feels good to come back here and show everyone we could do it.”

Just two months ago, Garcia was out of the pitching rotation.

He said he missed his first handful of potential pitching starts while nursing shoulder soreness, but he was still in the lineup, seeing time at right field and hitting third in the batting order. His first pitching appearance was nearly a month into the season, a March 27 2-1 win over Bakersfield Christian in the prestigious Boras Classic.

“He was tender early in the year and we did what we’re supposed to do,” Ayala said. “Man, he has a bright future. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do for four years.”

Garcia has made seven pitching appearances since getting healthy and has a 6-1 record, a 0.90 ERA and 39 strikeouts. In a senior season that started with adversity, Garcia battled back to come through for his team in a closeout game.

“That second half of the season, he did everything he could to prepare himself so when we made a playoff run, he was going to be another horse that we have,” Ayala said. “He had an injury and trusted me all the way to know … we weren’t going to do anything to jeopardize his future. We took it slow and the baseball gods have blessed us.”

The Raiders are battle tested. Eight of their nine seniors were on the 2023 team that made a deep playoff push, winning section and NorCal titles. Of those players, four pitchers and five players who recorded at least 15 hits returned.

Last year’s team played Christian Brothers in the section semifinals, losing the first game before winning two straight. This year, they vowed to do whatever it took to cut what could be a three-game series short.

One extra game means one more day of mentally and physically taxing playoff baseball and seven more innings of wear and tear on a pitcher’s arm.

The goal was to try their best to sweep the series. “We have so much respect for Oakdale, a VOL opponent,” Ayala said. “In the playoffs, anything can happen. We were trying to get it done in two.”

Garcia and Xavier Deep recorded the game’s only RBI. TP Wentworth scored on a passed ball in the third inning. Garcia had one hit and sophomore Kayden McHenry added a pair of singles for the team’s three hits on the day.

With the win, the Raiders also secured a spot in the Northern California Regional Championships, where they will also look to defend their title. After the section title game, they have the possibility to play three more games.

The Raiders are familiar with championship games at Islander Park in Lathrop, where the section website says this year’s championship will be played. Specifically Garcia.

In last year’s Division III title game against Pioneer, he sent a base hit down the third-base line in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Raiders a walkoff win.

“I’ll never forget that,” Garcia said. “It’s probably one of the best moments of my life. To go back there and have a chance to go back and do it again feels good. Especially in my senior year.”