Sub-.500 Granite Bay grinds its way to another section championship behind ace pitcher

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Jack Ghufran didn’t alarm anyone with his won-loss record as a pitcher, and neither did the Granite Bay Grizzlies with their 14-18 mark entering this week.

But look who’s still standing and who repeated as CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II baseball champions.

Seeded seventh, Granite Bay defeated No. 4-seeded Rio Americano 3-0 on Thursday night at Sacramento City College in a rematch of last season’s title game, and there was Ghufran leading the celebration charge.

When he recorded the final out, a strikeout, Ghufran didn’t run from his onrushing teammates who were armed with water cups for a spray down. He raced toward them. The unflappable junior got out of every jam, and there were a few, in allowing three hits, striking out 10, walking one and moving his record to 3-4. He often patted or pounded his chest after recording the final out of an inning. He is battle tested, as are the Grizzlies, from a challenging nonleague schedule and then enduring the loaded Sierra Foothill League.

Granite Bay Grizzlies pitcher Jack Ghufran celebrates a strikeout to end the second inning at-bat for the Rio Americano Raiders during the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II high school baseball championship game Thursday, May 25, 2023, at Sacramento City College. The Grizzlies beat the Raiders for the title for the second year in a row.
Granite Bay Grizzlies pitcher Jack Ghufran celebrates a strikeout to end the second inning at-bat for the Rio Americano Raiders during the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II high school baseball championship game Thursday, May 25, 2023, at Sacramento City College. The Grizzlies beat the Raiders for the title for the second year in a row.

The leader of the pack is coach Pat Esposito, the only varsity head baseball coach for the Placer County school since it opened in 1996. This was his third section championship and seventh title game experience. The proud coach raved about his team’s poise and youth as the roster includes just three seniors.

One of an army of returning players will be Ghufran, which pleases the coaching staff to no end.

“Jack Ghufran threw a masterful game,” Esposito said. “He told me he’d have a good game and he did. He was focused. He had really good stuff and was hard to hit. And he plays with emotion. We feed off of that.”

Granite Bay scored in the top of the first inning when third baseman Cody Ferrante drove in leadoff man Timmy Reed, in the sixth on designated hitter Jace Bystrowski’s RBI, and in the seventh when Christian Schiavo raced across home plate on a passed ball.

Bystrowski isn’t the first in his family to make a big play in a big playoff game. Just the latest one. Almost 29 years to the date, his father Rob Bystrowski scored the winning run to lead Jesuit past Woodland 4-3 in a 10-inning Division I playoff thriller that ended at 1:20 a.m. at American River College. It remains one of the most talked about, dramatic prep games in section history.

Like his father, this Bystrowski is a team guy. He talked up his ace and team in general.

“My team and I had full confidence in Ghufran,” Bystrowski said. “He always comes through, especially under pressure. I can’t even use the words to express how happy I am for my guys performing like they did on the big stage. We knew it was going to be a dog fight. Our team has been through loads of adversity this year. No one thought we were going to make it this far, let alone even make the playoffs. We showed heart since the first playoff game.”

Granite Bay Grizzlies outfielder Timmy Reed (3) slides into home to score past Rio Americano Raiders catcher Jonathan Pierce (23) on a single from Cody Ferrante (9) in the first inning of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II high school baseball championship game Thursday, May 25, 2023, at Sacramento City College. The Grizzlies beat the Raiders for the title for the second year in a row.

Granite Bay started the season by losing eight of its first 11 games, a run that included facing powerhouse programs such as Franklin, Del Campo, Elk Grove, Woodcreek, Oakmont and De La Salle of Concord. The Grizzlies had to defeat rival Del Oro twice in the final week of league play just to secure a playoff berth, and then the Grizzlies heated up, going 5-1 in section play and advancing to next week’s CIF Northern California regional tournament, as will Rio Americano (27-6).

“Our schedule was brutal,” Esposito said. “We knew the league would be a grind and that it would be hard just to make the playoffs. We snuck in. We just got better. We’ve grown. It’s why I do this, why I coach. I don’t do it for me. I do it for the kids. I do it to see the kids get better. I just love moments like this, watching them celebrate.”

In gusty conditions, the theme throughout the playoffs at Union Stadium, Ghufran had to step off the mound a time or two to collect himself. This wasn’t nerves. This was weather. Ghufran’s pitching coach understands such conditions. Jim Barr pitched for the San Francisco Giants in Candlestick Park throughout the 1970s where wind was as much a part of the game as balls and strikes.

“I learned a lot from (Barr),” Ghufran said, mentioning mechanics and how to hang in there when things start to feel wobbly. “I was in this game here last year as the starting pitcher, and it pumped me up to pitch and to see my boys make plays.”

Granite Bay Grizzlies pitcher Jack Ghufran (7) throws against Rio Americano Raiders batter Brady Wilson (20) during the fourth inning at the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II high school baseball championship game Thursday, May 25, 2023, at Sacramento City College. The Grizzlies beat the Raiders for the title for the second year in a row.
Granite Bay Grizzlies pitcher Jack Ghufran (7) throws against Rio Americano Raiders batter Brady Wilson (20) during the fourth inning at the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division II high school baseball championship game Thursday, May 25, 2023, at Sacramento City College. The Grizzlies beat the Raiders for the title for the second year in a row.