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Pitching talent, depth anchor D-IV finalists Manteca, Vista del Lago

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Graphic illustration by CURT MURRAY/The Bulletin/

POSTED May 23, 2014 11:18 p.m.

Manteca (24-3) cruised past two Sierra Valley Conference opponents, while Vista del Lago (26-5) held off challengers from the Valley Oak League in the first two rounds of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs.

Fittingly, the champions of both leagues will match wits and hits in Monday’s winner-take-all finale at Tony Zupo Field. Both programs are taking aim at their first section banner.

Vista del Lago of Folsom may have entered the tournament as the favorite, but Manteca goes into the championship on an absolute roll. The Buffaloes began their postseason run with a 6-0 shutout of El Dorado and swept Cosumnes Oaks, 5-2 and 9-0, in the best-of-three semifinal round.

Since the start of league they have won 17 of 18 with 11 shutouts.

“We hang our hat on pitching and defense,” said Manteca coach Neil MacDannald, who guided the club to its first VOL title run in 29 years. “You can have the most potent lineup in America, but if you are having an off day offensively and not taking care of the foundation of baseball — throwing strikes and playing catch — chances are you are not going to win that game.”

It’s easy to see why Manteca has won most of its games. Oregon-bound southpaw Jacob Corn and stalwart righty Lucas Vaughn have been as good as any 1-2 pitching punch in the section all season. There hasn’t been a tandem this good in the Manteca area since Ryan Fleckenstein and Justin Friend led East Union to a section final a decade ago.

So who gets the ball on Monday?

MacDannald is fortunate to have such a tough decision to make. If he is to play the odds, Corn may be the obvious choice. All five of Vista del Lago’s losses have come against opposing left-handed pitchers. Leo Soto, Sierra’s diminutive ace, baffled the Eagles in a 6-1 win that forced a rubber match in Wednesday’s semifinal.

Kyle Yamada (Del Oro), Josh Cooper (Woodcreek) and Donovan Palma (Cosumnes Oaks) also own wins over Vista. Palma and Cosumnes Oaks took two out of three against the Eagles in their SVC series but lasted just 2 1/3 innings in a 9-0 elimination loss to Manteca.

Slam-dunk decision, right?

Not necessarily.

Vaughn owns the best record in the section at 11-0 for a reason and is no stranger to performing in big-game situations. His defining moment this season was a no-hit gem against Sierra that clinched Manteca its league title on the final day of the regular season.

“I haven’t 100 percent made up my mind,” MacDannald said. “I have a little bit of an idea of who I’m going with, but with both kids we have full confidence that either one can get the job done for us.”

Scary thought: Perhaps MacDannald ends up using both Monday. And if he needs to dig deeper into the bullpen there are proven strike throwers there.

Center fielder Dominic Pisano, a third-year varsity junior, didn’t give up an earned run and struck out 37 in 22 2/3 innings during the regular season. He has a noteworthy start against Mother Lode League powerhouse Linden, which struck out 12 times and was shut down by the lefty in a 4-0 defeat.

Corner infielder Alex Jorgensen (1.24 ERA) is another option in relief.

“Obviously it’s all hands on deck for a game like this,” MacDannald said. “Pisano has No. 1 ace stuff, but he’s just absolutely crucial in our outfield. We played 27 games this season and I’m still waiting to see a better center fielder.

“Jorgensen throws a real heavy ball and he throws strikes. We also have Dillon Lauborough (4.50 ERA) available. If need be we can take it 16 to 17 innings and have confidence in whoever is on the mound for us.”

Manteca’s pitchers, whoever they may be, will have a tough task facing a Vista del Lago club that has home-run pop up and down its lineup.

“There are no easy outs in that lineup,” MacDannald said. “We got to see them play Oakdale and the three games against Sierra, and their No. 8 and 9 hitters were hitting it loud. Where we’re at at this point in the season, we’re obviously going to see a very good team in all aspects, from coaching to hitting and defense — the whole works.”

Like Manteca, the Eagles have made it this far with their own talented core of pitchers.

Andrew Schantz, who is 9-0 with a 2.30 ERA with 82 strikeouts in 54 2/3 innings, is expected to take the bump for Vista del Lago but would have to do so on short rest. He is coming off an outstanding effort in Wednesday’s do-or-die affair with Sierra. On top of blanking the Timberwolves’ dangerous lineup, he drove in the only two runs of the game with a homer.

“They are an extremely talented team with a very good pitcher,” MacDannald said. “(Schantz) gets after you and throws three pitches for strikes, and he can throw any pitch on any count. You can’t really sit on a fastball when you have some leverage, because he throws a 2-0 changeup or curveball with confidence.”

Vista del Lago also has options, with Tyler Kaim (6-1, 1.69) and Michael Majeski (6-4, 3.06) logging plenty of innings this season.

The Eagles are responsible for ending Oakdale’s bid at a fifth straight section title and sixth in seven years. Oakdale’s Bryce Dyrda, heading to USC, struck out eight but surrendered six runs in the 7-6 loss. The Mustangs ended the game with the bases loaded.

A new champion will reign on Monday, as the two finalists duel to make history.

“We’re a pretty senior-dominated team, and for our seniors they’re looking to leave behind a legacy,” MacDannald said. “They have sacrificed a lot to get to this point. They ended a near-30-year VOL (title) drought and they are going to fight their butts off to finally bring home a blue banner.”

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