Alas, memorable playoff runs had been absent from Falcons chronicle in the recent past.
That changed dramatically and emphatically in the spring of 2014.
While Crescenta Valley was very much a team of underdogs that played hard, clutch and fundamentally sound in rising to the occasion of the CIF Southern Section Division II postseason, without the brilliance in the right arm of Brian Gadsby, it’s difficult to contemplate the Falcons’ playoff ascension.
“We put a lot of pressure on him to go out and pitch like he did,” Falcons Coach Phil Torres says. “We expected him to be this good and we needed him to be.”
In particular was a span of 21 innings and three complete games in which Gadsby never exited the mound for the Falcons and put their historic fate upon his right shoulder.
First was a shutout over Arcadia to clinch an outright Pacific League title. Next was a 6-1 win over Damien in the first round of the playoffs for Crescenta Valley’s first postseason win since 2009. And next, on short rest, was a victory far from home at Redlands East Valley that sent the Falcons to the CIF-SS quarterfinals for the first time since 2007.
“It was incredible to see him perform like that and carry our team,” Falcons senior center fielder Bryan Wang says.
Gadsby’s three-game run was one of historical glory and clutch excellence, but his junior season overall was one filled with statistical splendor, significant victories, all-star accolades and some of the more memorable performances upon a Crescenta Valley pitching mound in recent seasons. For that, he was a unanimous choice as the 2014 All-Area Baseball Player of the Year, as voted by the sports staff of the Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader and La Cañada Valley Sun.
For a season marked by a 21-8-1 record, a third straight Pacific League title and an appearance in the CIF-SS quarterfinals for the first time in seven seasons, it was a loss that might have been the most important result of the Falcons’ campaign.
It was Pasadena that was seen by many as the odds-on league favorite and it was Pasadena that delivered in the league opener, besting Crescenta Valley, 3-0. Gadsby went the distance and allowed five hits, but only one left the infield. However, he also had one of two crucial errors in a second inning in which Pasadena scored all its runs. After the game, Gadsby took the blame for the loss, but, along with the rest of the team, let it kindle a fire that carried the Falcons through the rest of league.
“Once league starts is usually when we kick it into gear,” Gadsby says. “We knew we couldn’t lose again or we probably wouldn’t win league.”
In the aftermath of the Pasadena defeat, Crescenta Valley went 14-1-1 over the remainder of the season and Gadsby never lost another game.
“I knew that he had good stuff and knew how to use it,” senior outfielder Michael Russo says. “I knew he could go out there and dominate.”
That’s exactly what Gadsby did.
At season’s end, he was voted the Pacific League co-Player of the Year, selected to the All-CIF Southern Section Division II first team and the Cal-Hi Sports All-State Underclassmen second team. The honors came with a spectacular statistical resume that saw a 9-2 record, two saves, a minuscule 0.82 earned-run average, 104 strikeouts to 21 walks in 93 1/3 innings and a .162 opposing batting average.
But there was more to Gadsby than his numbers.
As a sophomore, he was stellar, as well. An All-Area and All-Pacific League first-teamer, he was 7-6 with a 1.96 ERA with 68 strikeouts and 18 walks over 75 innings. But last season’s All-Area Baseball Player of the Year, Ted Boeke, was very much the face of the team, a clutch hitter and excellent pitcher who took on much of the leadership and pressure. Thus, upon his graduation, Gadsby, along with Russo, were called on to be the stars that guided CV.
“He has a lot of games under his belt, so we all knew he was used to it,” Russo says of Gadsby dealing with pressure. “We felt confident when he was out there.”
For Gadsby, by all accounts, pressure is rarely an issue.
“He’s a goofball off the field, but I think that helps him on the field,” Torres says. “He’s just a no-stress guy.
“I never worry about him, he’s always ready to answer the bell.”
Indeed, from a young age, Gadsby’s loved baseball, thus, no matter the magnitude of the situation, chances are he’s having fun at home on the diamond.
“It’s something I always look forward to and am excited to do,” Gadsby says. “I grew up, because of my dad and my mom, watching baseball, playing baseball, loving baseball. Now it’s part of my lifestyle.”
So it goes that the bigger the circumstances, Gadsby very much embodied the put-me-in-coach-I’m-ready-to-play mantra. And when Torres made the decision to give Gadsby the hook, though the junior is quick to admit he knows his coach always had his best interest in mind, he looked on every start as it was his to begin and finish.
“I think all your good pitchers are like that,” Torres says. “He wants the ball and he wants to compete and battle.”
So, as impressive as Gadsby’s three-game run of excellence was at the end of the season, perhaps it shouldn’t have been all that surprising.
“My mind is it’s just a game,” Gadsby says. “I love to play it. Win or lose, I’m just having fun, doing what I love to do.”
Following a shared league title with Burbank in 2013 and the shared result of a seemingly unprecedented tie against archrival Arcadia the first time the teams battled in 2014, the league finale against the Apaches was hardly just a game. It was the last game of the season with an outright title on the line for the Falcons.
“We didn’t want to share it like last year,” Gadsby says.
Gadsby proceeded to paint a masterpiece. The Falcons won, 1-0, with Gadsby tossing a shutout on only 74 pitches. He allowed two hits – both of them of the infield variety – and didn’t issue a walk, much less a three-ball count.
A week later, Crescenta Valley welcomed Damien to Stengel Field for a first-round playoff game.
On the hill for Damien was ballyhooed hurler Grant Hockin. Weeks later, Hockin was drafted in the second round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Cleveland Indians. But on that Friday evening, it was Gadsby and the Falcons who stood tall after a 6-1 victory.
Gadsby went the distance again, allowing five hits, two walks, one run and notching six strikeouts to halt a string of five straight playoff losses for the Falcons.
Five days later, following short rest and a long bus ride, Gadsby was back on the bump against host Redlands East Valley.
“I felt good,” Gadsby says. “I’ll be honest, I wasn’t 100% like the Damien game, but I was confident.”
But following a three-hour bus ride to Redlands, Gadsby was sluggish, as were the Falcons, for the most part. Crescenta Valley trailed, 2-0, after an inning of play, as Gadsby gave up a pair of hits and the team committed two errors, including one by Gadsby.
But the Falcons rallied thanks to a phenomenal performance at the plate from the bottom of the lineup and Gadsby returning to form, going the distance for a third game in a row, allowing three hits and no walks, while striking out five.
A league title had been wrapped up, two more playoff victories had been had than the Falcons had accumulated in the last five seasons combined and the quarterfinals had been reached – all of it with Gadsby leading the way.
“It was incredible,” Wang says. “Just for him to go out there on short days’ rest and compete and do what he did; that’s the thing, he’s learned to compete. He’s matured more. He had the talent last year, but he learned to compete and go after guys.”
During that stretch, it’s quite possible that the hardest Gadsby was hit was when he was tackled by third baseman Joe Torres after the Arcadia win to begin a dog pile celebration.
“It’s definitely comparable to a hit in football season,” says Gadsby, an All-Area quarterback in the fall, of Joe Torres’ decleater. “I was about to jump up thinking we were going to jump in the air and he just laid me out.”
As the story goes, Joe Torres tried his best to wrestle down Gadsby the season prior after clinching the league title, but Gadsby was able to elude him.
“He told me after, ‘I wasn’t gonna miss you two years in a row,’” says Gadsby, who ended up pitching on even shorter notice when he came on in relief in the Falcons’ final game of the season — an 8-2 loss to Placentia Valencia in the quarters. “He hit me pretty hard, but all the adrenaline is going. It’s not the greatest thing being at the bottom of a dog pile under 3,000 pounds, but it’s worth it to win a league championship.”
Just as Torres found Gadsby this time around, it was one of many ways in which the 2014 season was far different than the 2013 campaign.
Unlike 2013, the Falcons had an outright league crown to celebrate. And, unlike the previous season in which Crescenta Valley had come up short of a postseason win, the Falcons won their first playoff game since 2009, moved past the first round for the first time since 2008 and concluded their run with the program’s initial quarterfinal ascent since 2007.
It was memorably historic and one in which Gadsby showcased his abilities to shine upon the stage of the biggest games again and again.
“I normally don’t feel pressure when it comes to any sport in any game,” says Gadsby, who verbally committed to play at UCLA not long after the season. “I was a little nervous. I knew in both [playoff] games we were the underdogs, but, at the same time, I was motivated to prove that CV can contend.
“And I think we did.”
Follow Grant Gordon on Twitter: @TCNGrantGordon.