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Mustangs take advantage of questionable call to escape with ‘W’

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Sierra first baseman Jordan Ribota reacts to a controversial call on a pickoff attempt in the sixth inning after Oakdale's Steven Gratigny was deemed safe.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED April 24, 2009 3:39 a.m.

Sierra had the Mustangs by the mane.

With the Timberwolves holding onto a one-run lead in the top of the sixth, a blown call on a pickoff attempt extended visiting Oakdale’s turn at the plate.

Oakdale took advantage of the opportunity to escape with a 4-1 victory Thursday and pad its first-place lead to three games with four to go. The Mustangs (10-0, 21-2 overall), ranked fifth in Northern California by, are another win away from clinching at least a share of a third-straight Valley Oak League championship.

Sierra (7-3, 13-7) recorded the first earned run of the season against Cal-bound ace Justin Jones in the fourth inning, when Jordan Ribota drove in Jonathan Davis (singled) with a two-bag drive to deep right-center field.

Sierra’s Andy Scott matched Jones pitch for pitch until the sixth, when the Mustangs had two base runners for the first time all game.

The window for Oakdale to plate at least the tying run appeared to be slammed shut when Sierra catcher Jordan Louie picked off Steven Gratingy at first base with a perfect throw, but the base umpire ruled that he was safe.

“Did he get him? By about six feet,” Scott said. “But you know what? Umpires make mistakes, and I should have came back and the next guy.”

The momentum-shifting call gave Logan Bruce the chance to slap the tying single to right, and No. 8 batter Craig Lefebvre brought home two more with a bases-loaded knock to center. Oakdale tacked on the insurance run in the seventh with Dante Major’s double.

Major finished 2 for 4, and Gratigny was 2 for 2 with two walks.

“We’ve always told our kids that you win by making plays, and in my mind in the sixth inning we made the play,” Sierra coach Jack Thomson said.” I just felt that Jordan made a play that you need to make to win a game, and we didn’t get the call. So be it.

“They’re champions for a reason and they persevered, but I thought our kids did everything they needed to do to win today.

Despite giving up his only run of the season, Jones was yet again spectacular in a two-hit gem in which he finished off the Timberwolves with three straight strikeouts in the final frame to end up with 16.

With scouts present to take a peek at Jones, Scott put on his own show. He took a two-hitter into the sixth and capped his stellar outing with 13 strikeouts to three walks.

“I’ve been waiting to face Jones all year,” Scott said. “I was really anxious to get out here; it just hurts to lose it.”

Regardless of the outcome, it was another Sierra-Oakdale thriller on the T’Wolves’ home diamond. Last year, Sierra stunned the Mustangs with a seven-run rally in the bottom of the seventh to win 10-9 and hand Oakdale’s its only loss of the regular season. Oakdale went on to claim its second straight Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV title.

After winning easily at home Tuesday, 12-1, Oakdale coach Hondo Arpoika expected to see Sierra’s best on the back end of the two-game set.

“Sierra is a tough team and they battled,” he said. “Last year they came back, tied it and got us so it’s never easy here.

“Tip your hat to Scott, what a heck of a job he did. He kept our guys off balanced all day and we just so happen to get a couple clutch hits in the end.”

Sierra hopes to get another crack at the Mustangs in the section playoffs, but the Timberwolves, currently tied for second with Sonora, still have work left to do with home-and-home sets against Central Valley and 2008 postseason qualifier East Union remaining on the schedule.

“Hopefully we can take this, build on it and maybe get a chance to play them again down the road,” Thomson said. “It’s a tough one to swallow, because we honestly believe we can beat them even though I know people don’t believe that.”

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