LODI — It was only a matter of time that Manteca High’s baseball team would break after bending so many times from missed opportunities and crucial mistakes in its first-ever appearance in a Sac-Joaquin Section championship game Monday at Tony Zupo Field.
Valley Oak League rival Oakdale scored nine runs all with one out in the bottom of the sixth inning, turning what was a see-saw battle into a 14-4 mercy-shortened victory for its fourth Division-IV banner in five years.
The Mustangs (23-8) got RBI doubles from Russell Longworth, Andy Morris and Lane Branch in the sixth, and Kody Simmons launched a shot to the right-center gap for the walk-off hit.
Matt Butler, who finished 3 for 4 with five RBIs, put Oakdale up for good with a two-run triple in the fourth. Leadoff hitter Mark Ortiz was 3 for 3 with four runs scored, also reaching via beanball and a walk.
“It’s just a shocker to be able to do that because Manteca is a good ballclub,” Oakdale coach Hondo Arpoika said.
Though Manteca (20-10) gave up five unearned runs it was certainly presented its share of chances, as Oakdale committed four errors and walked 11 batters. Both clubs used four pitchers, with Manteca’s scattering 14 hits, walking four and hitting one.
“They were just better than us today,” Manteca coach Gene Ballardo said. “We came out, and I thought we fought hard — the effort was there.
“The sixth inning got away from us a little bit. I think that was pretty much the ballgame.”
The late outburst was salt to the wound after a momentum-killing double play halted Manteca’s threat to tie at 5-all in the top half of the sixth. Butler came on in relief for Oakdale and threw two strikes to Kevin Peck before starting the 1-6-3 double play.
The Buffaloes could have put up crooked numbers in previous innings but could not capitalize on four bases-loaded opportunities, leaving three on in the third and fourth and having runners picked off for the final outs in the second and fifth.
In the fifth, Oakdale freshman reliever Bryce Dyrda caught Gabe Rellamas racing toward home in the middle of his delivery. Dyrda jumped off the mound and lobbed it to third baseman Morris for the out. Manteca disputed the play, arguing that Dyrda should have been called for a balk.
“We gave them a couple of runs here and there and put runners on base, but they had the confidence to go ahead and execute those situations,” Arpoika said.
Both starting pitchers combined to throw just 3 2/3 innings. Oakdale ace Brennon Williams went down first, exiting with a sore arm after issuing back-to-back walks with two outs in the top of the second.
For Manteca, Sonoma State-bound Matt Burrows struck out three and walked two while giving up three runs (one earned) in two innings. In the top of the third he turned his left ankle while scoring on a throwing error on a pickoff attempt.
Burrows had the ankle wrapped before innings, but after a few warm-up pitches it was obvious that he could not go on.
“I feel bad for Matty,” Ballardo said. “In the last game of his high school career in a section championship game, the poor guy gets hurt. You just hate to see something like that happen to someone like that.”
It was a disheartening way for Manteca’s exciting postseason to end.
Entering as the eighth seed, the Buffaloes won their out-bracket game with River City, upset favorite Central Catholic and took two out of three from intra-city foe and VOL co-champion East Union to get to Monday’s winner-take-all affair.
“It’s bittersweet,” Ballardo said. “We fought through a lot of adversity this year. Overall, I’m very proud of them. Twenty-win season, they have nothing to hang their heads about.”