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Buffs hold off Beyer in coach’s return

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Manteca infielder Brandon Landwehr makes the throw for the easy force out of Jordan Pugh at second base to end the fourth inning.


POSTED March 5, 2014 1:38 a.m.

Neil MacDannald is perfect so far in his return to the dugout as Manteca High’s head baseball coach, though things didn’t always go perfectly in the Buffaloes’ season opener against visiting Beyer on Tuesday.

After six strong innings of pitching and defense, they nearly threw it all away in a 5-4 victory. Beyer (0-2) strung together a couple of hits and took advantage of an error in the outfield that led to three runs in the final inning. The defending champion of the Division I Modesto Metro Conference was scoreless going into the frame.

Nick Brooks got out of the inning by striking out two of the final three batters.

“We have a talented team that went up against another talented team,” said MacDannald, who previous led the Buffaloes in 2007 and 08. “We knew runs were going to be at a premium, but I think our kids made plays when they had to. A great program like Beyer is not just going to lay down for you, they’re going to fight until the end. It’s a testament to our kids finishing the job. I’m real proud of them.”

Jake Corn didn’t factor into the decision but was solid in his three-inning start, striking out seven while not allowing a hit. Reliever Michael Garibay faced 13 batters in his three innings in relief. He kept the Patriots scoreless in the sixth by striking out the side in order after giving up consecutive hits to Josh Chamberlain and Anthony Enwia.

MacDannald expects the diminutive Garibay to play a larger role in his senior season. Garibay also reached base in three out of his four at-bats (1 for 3, hit, walk, run) from the No. 2 spot in the order.

“Garibay threw against Escalon in our scrimmage and showed really well,” MacDannald said. “He came out here and executed three pitches for strikes. He’s hitting the ball well and playing real nice defense — he can play three or four different positions out there. He’s definitely a guy we’re looking to count on.”

The Oregon-bound Corn is one of three third-year starters leading the way. The southpaw ace boasted a 1.27 ERA with a 9-1 record and 83 strikeouts in 55 innings last year.

Corn said that last year’s season-ending loss to Central Catholic is driving the senior-heavy 2014 club. The Buffaloes forced a winner-take-all third game against Central in the semifinal round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs. They were a pitch away from advancing to the finals, but the Raiders were able to battle back from a two-run hole to win 6-5.

“That loss is still a kick in the butt,” Corn said. “We’re shooting for one of those blue banners (section championship) this year, but we know we have a lot to do. Communication (on defense), situational hitting and throwing strikes will be the keys for us.”

Catcher Buddy Reeder, Corn’s longtime batterymate going back to their Little League days, was Manteca’s leading hitter with a .463 average and .671 slugging percentage in 2013. He is picking up where he left off, going 3 for 4 Tuesday.

“It just feels good to be back out here,” Reeder said. “We did pretty well for our first game. Hopefully we can keep getting better.”

Third-year junior Dominic Pisano is back to anchor the outfield, and Lucas Vaughn returns to the No. 3 spot in the order and is the Buffaloes’ No. 2 pitcher.

“Our No. 1 strength is experience,” MacDannald said. “We have three-year starters on this team who happen to be very talented kids, and we have multiple guys who can throw strikes.”

There are also familiar faces in the dugout alongside MacDannald. Back on the staff are Jack Miller, Bobby Fryer and Dave Camara, who were with him during his previous two-year stint. Joining them is Manteca graduate Nick Betti.

“I have a great group of guys working with me and I couldn’t do it without them,” MacDannald said.

MacDannald and his staff guided Manteca to back-to-back postseason appearances — the program’s first since the 1980s. The Buffaloes were 30-26-1 in those two years.

Gene Ballardo continued to build on that success the following five seasons, leading Manteca to the postseason every year as well as its first-ever final-round appearance in 2011. He was 62-45-2.

MacDannald is also the offensive coordinator for the school’s football team, a position he has held since 2001. He originally stepped away from baseball to spend more time with his growing family.

“It was a little too much for me going year-round at the time,” he said. “When it became available I had the bug to come back. My wife was on board with it and has been real supportive. I’m fortunate to have the support of the administration and the parents. It’s been fantastic so far.”

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