It was a dogpile 20 years in the making.
The Kingsburg High baseball team held off Dos Palos for a 7-5 victory to win the Central Section Division III championship on Thursday night.
It was the Vikings’ first Valley championship since 2003.
The scene was electric, with a packed Valley Strong Ballpark (home of the Visalia Rawhide) equally divided in its allegiance.
After Kingsburg reliever Ethan Salazar struck out the final hitter, the Vikings players exploded out of the dugout and the team dogpiled on top of each other near the mound.
“I’m so proud of this team,” said junior Holden Hirschkorn, who was one of the offensive stars for the Vikings. “I love this team. This was for all the teams, all the players and all the coaches who came before us. This was for them.”
It was a matchup of two teams trying to end long championship droughts. Dos Palos (26-3) was hoping to win its first title since 2007.
“It’s hard because we’ve been dreaming of this since we were 6 years old,” said Broncos catcher Peyton Van Worth. “We’ve been playing together since we were 6.”
Dos Palos came in riding a 19-game winning streak and the No. 2-seeded Broncos struck first with a pair of runs in the first inning as Van Worth singled with one out and scored on a double by Isac Mandujano.
Mandujano then came around to score on a wild pitch.
It didn’t take long for the top-seeded Vikings (28-5) to answer. Hirschkorn led off the bottom of the first with a home run over the right-field wall off of left-hander Kanoa Ruiz.
Twin brother Houston Hirschkorn added an RBI double and the Vikings took advantage of a Dos Palos error to grab the lead at 3-2 after one inning.
After the Broncos left two runners on bases in the top of the second, Kingsburg broke the game open with a four-run second inning. The Vikings had six hits including a two-run single by Ethan Winslow in the frame
“We got in a hole right away,” said Dos Palos coach Leonard Davis. “We knew they were a good-hitting team. We even had charts on them, but they’re just really good.”
Davis turned to his bullpen early, calling on right-hander Will Montemurro, and the senior shut out the Vikings the rest of the way.
That gave the Broncos offense a chance to make it interesting.
Dos Palos scored a run in the third inning on a run-scoring double by Drake Hennagan to cut the lead to 7-3.
The Broncos tacked on two more runs in the fourth inning to pull within 7-5. Dos Palos had an opportunity to do more damage put Kingsburg’s freshman starter Jensen Hirschkorn, who is the third of three Hirschkorn brothers on the team, was able to get out of a bases-loaded jam.
“Hats off to Dos Palos, when we put the barrage up early they could have folded,” said Kingsburg coach Jim Cranford. “They didn’t fold, they battled back.”
Broncos catcher Van Worth said, “We’ve had heart all year. Any time we’re down in a game we know we’re not out of it. Tonight, Will did his job and kept us in the game. We just fell short.”
Van Worth, Mandjuano and Hennagan each had two hits for the Broncos.
“The fight in us was always there,” Dos Palos coach Davis said. “We tried to chip, chip, chip away and unfortunately we came up short tonight, but we didn’t give up.”
Jensen Hirschkorn pitched the first four innings to pick up the win. Salazar pitched three scoreless innings to close out the game.
The Vikings recorded nine of their 11 hits in the first two innings. Houston Hirschkorn collected three hits, scored two runs and had two RBIs. Holden Hirschkorn, Gavin Enns and Preston Ingrao each had two hits.
“We’re a bunch of fighters,” Holden Hirschkorn said. “Who would have thought these small-town kids from Kingsburg could do this?”
Cranford pointed to the experience on the team, including a large group of players who came close to a championship last year before bowing out in the semifinals. This year, the Vikings won the early-season Coca-Cola Classic beating Clovis West and Clovis along the way, and Thursday’s win was their eighth straight. They now await seeding in a state regional tournament.
“They know what it takes to win,” Cranford said. “It’s a cohesive group and they like each other. That’ the No. 1 thing.”