The College Park and Northgate high school baseball teams played a little game of 'Can you top that?' on defense in a Diablo Valley Athletic League showdown on Thursday.
The Falcons took a tense 2-1 win over the visiting Broncos to sweep a home-and-home series this week, as College Park ace Joe DeMers won a first-class pitchers' duel against 6-foot-6 Utah-bound Spencer Johnson.
But it was Northgate center fielder Ryan Strong and College Park shortstop Willie MacIver who stole the show with their dazzling defense.
The victory in spectacular spring weather kept College Park (9-2, 5-1) on the heels of DVAL-leading Clayton Valley Charter, while Northgate (11-3, 6-2) took a step back.
Strong first denied College Park catcher Noah Burnham of extra bases with a running catch near the fence in deep right-center in the bottom of the fourth. He fell over backwards on the play and held on to the ball.
But he was just getting warmed up. In the fifth, with College Park's Jeff Mitchell at third base, Strong robbed DeMers by ranging into deep left-center field and reaching out for another great catch, keeping the score at 2-1.
"He wasn't pretty, but he made all the plays against us," College Park coach Andy Tarpley said of Strong. "That kid can run. He flagged down some balls and saved their team a little bit."
MacIver made seven putouts, including two huge plays in the top of the sixth to preserve a 1-2-3 inning for DeMers, who fired a two-hitter. MacIver went into shallow left field to field Drew Downing's grounder before throwing him out at first.
"Willie's always solid behind me," DeMers said.
DeMers and his coach noted that the Falcons have room for improvement, especially with base-running. They loaded the bases in the sixth and came up empty.
"That's why I'm not very happy right now," Tarpley said. "These little things later on the season, we're going to need those runs. We have to be able to separate. I call it cutting the juggler vein, and we didn't cut the juggler."
The Falcons led 1-0 in the first inning as MacIver walked, stole second and scored on Trevor Larnach's single up the middle.
After being set down in order in the second, Northgate made a little noise in the third with their only two hits and run of the game. Brandon Gazder singled home Anthony Dito with one out and the bases loaded. But DeMers retired the next two batters on line-drive outs.
MacIver singled and scored what proved to be the winning run in the third inning on a sacrifice fly by Larnach.
The fire-balling Johnson allowed five hits and struck out seven, in a matchup of two of the area's top pitchers. DeMers is among seven Falcons juniors who have orally committed to Division I schools.
"Spencer's a good friend of mine. We used to work out together and he's always been solid," DeMers said. "He beat us last year and he's a great guy to compete against."
College Park 2, Northgate 1
Northgate 001 000 0-- 1 2 0
College Park 101 000 x-- 2 5 1
Johnson and Sisneros. DeMers and Burnham. W: DeMers (4-3). L: Johnson. 2B: Lamach (CP). Records: College Park 9-2, 5-1 DVAL; Northgate 11-3, 6-2. Highlights: CP -- Lamech 2 for 2, 2 RBIs; MacIver 2 R. N -- Johnson 7 K.
Matt Schwab, c- cell 510-566-2835 (home) 925-420-6501;