SJS crown a relief for football athletes

By: Eric J. Gourley, Journal Sports Writer
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SACRAMENTO — The section title they were supposed to win on a near-freezing night in mid-December finally came under a searing sun at Sacramento City College Monday. Placer High’s 6-1 Memorial Day win over league rival El Dorado in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship will always be memorable for a half dozen Hillmen whose extraordinary football playoff push fell just short five months ago. “To actually get it done this time feels so great,” said infielder Griffin Quick, a tackle on the football field. “It’s like a weight off my shoulders. I don’t know if I could have dealt with two section titles slipping through my hands.” Alongside junior teammates Michael Gray and Josh Klem, seniors Quick, Jordan Arndt, Jake Lopez and Matt Ross took care of business unfinished from a remarkable run on the gridiron. Following a California Interscholastic Federation rule reversal by an Oakland judge in November, Placer upset defending section champion Oakdale and dismantled Dixon in the semifinals to reach its first title game since 1981. Pioneer Valley League power Whitney beat the Hillmen 35-14 despite a spirited Placer effort. “We were certainly hoping to get that ring for football,” said Klem, an infielder and a tight end. “That was a huge disappointment. In baseball, we just took our chance and ran with it.” The journey this spring was similar, the outcome easier to stomach. Placer stunned Oakdale, also the defending section champion on the diamond, sweeping a best-of-three semifinal series last week. The Mustangs had beaten the Hillmen by a combined score of 34-9 in four semifinal games over the last two years, sweeping their way to the section crown both times. “We were so excited to play Oakdale again, just to get another chance at them,” Quick said. “We knew we owned them in football this year, so it was exciting to get another opportunity and we pulled through.” There would be no December disappointment déjà vu. This time, the Hillmen handled a PVL rival just fine with a crown on the line. “It’s awesome for all six of us, because it was terrible getting that far and losing to Whitney,” said Lopez, a speedy outfielder and running back. “We already had that experience under our belt. It helped when we got here. We knew how it felt to come so far and not take it. That was extra motivation.” Ross pitched out of several jams and his teammates came through with timely hitting. “We knew we had to win this one since we didn’t get it done in football,” Arndt said. “There was more drive to do it. It made this that much sweeter. It was pretty much a must-win for us. Most of us are seniors, so this was a huge deal. This was the last game we’re going to play.” Joey Montoya, Placer’s second-year head football coach, posed for pictures Monday with his six players. “They did it,” he said. “This group deserves it.” Four of the six will graduate next month with memories of a tumultuous 2008-09 sports year. “Everything we’ve been through in these two seasons has helped bring us together,” Lopez said. Quick won’t soon forget the relationships created. “We formed a special bond,” he said. “We got used to relying on each other. We all knew we could get it done. We almost got it done during the football season and we all had confidence in each other. When we got out here on the baseball diamond I knew Matt was going to go out and pitch a great game when Anthony got hurt. I knew Jordan was going to step up big hitting that triple and Josh was going to come up big with some RBIs. I rely on these guys. I relied on them so much during the football season and it carried over.”