PINOLE -- A four-run deficit was nothing the Pinole Valley High baseball team couldn't handle in Friday's Tri-County Athletic League title game.
After falling behind early, the Spartans came back in a big way to beat St. Mary's 8-4 at Pinole Valley Park, capturing the league's tournament title after already securing the regular season championship.
Catcher Alex Melendez drove in five runs and Pinole Valley also got a big boost from pitcher Sammy Esparza, who threw five innings of no-hit relief after the Spartans went down 4-0 by the second inning.
"All year they've been resilient," Pinole Valley coach Curtis Sandeford said. "We've come back numerous times before. We stayed with the plan, and the plan was hitting it hard on the ground. We have an all-dirt infield and things happen."
The win was the ninth straight for Pinole Valley (20-6-1), which earned the league's automatic berth to the North Coast Section playoffs.
St. Mary's (17-10) got off to a good start with Andre Nnebe launching a two-run homer to straightaway center in the first inning and Josh Cohen adding a two-run single in the second.
But Pinole Valley began its comeback in the fourth inning. Melendez, a senior captain and four year varsity player, hit a two-run double and scored later in the inning on an error.
The Spartans put together another rally in the fifth, sparked by a fielding error. Esparza hit a sacrifice fly that scored Ryan Rodrigues, who slid home safely under the tag, for the tying run.
Melendez then made St. Mary's pay for intentional walks to Kasey Wallace and Jeffrey Kersten that loaded the bases by drilling a bases-clearing double off the left field fence.
"He stepped up when we needed him to," Sandeford said of Melendez.
The Spartans capitalized on two errors to add another run in the bottom of the sixth.
Esparza, a sophomore normally used in the closer role, earned the win with his dominant relief outing. He entered trailing 4-0 to start the third inning, but didn't let a runner reach second through his five shutout innings.
He struck out seven and walked one.
TCAL playoffs Championship Pinole Valley 8, St. Mary's 4
St. Mary's 220 000 0-- 4 7 4
Pinole Valley 000 341 x-- 8 7 3
Cohen, O'Farrell (5) and Giuntini. Kruger, Esparza (3) and Melendez. W: Esparza. L: Cohen. 2B: McCarty (PV), Melendez 2 (PV), Jenkins (PV). HR: Nnebe (SM) 1st inn., 1 on. Records: Pinole Valley 20-6-1, St. Mary's 17-10. Highlights: SM -- Cohen 2 for 3, 2 RBI; Nnebe 1 for 3, R, 2 RBI. PV -- Esparza 5 IP, 0 H, BB, 1 for 4, RBI; Melendez 2 for 3, 5 RBI, R.