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ATHLETE OF THE WEEK: Santi Duarte, Sierra baseball
AOW Santi Duarte
Santi Duarte

Sierra entered its final regular-season series with Oakdale riding a four-game winning streak, and Duarte was instrumental in keeping his team in contention for a postseason berth.

Last Tuesday, April 26 at Weston Ranch, the Timberwolves (6-4 Valley Oak League, 11-13 overall) trailed 5-2 after three innings, but one swing of the bat helped turn things around in a big way for the visitors. Duarte hit a grand slam, and Sierra went on to plate 10 runs in the inning en route to an 18-5 victory.

“In practice I was working on hitting line drives because I was having a problem with popping it up,” Duarte said. “On that grand slam, I just so happen to hit the sweet spot. It felt great to have my teammates cheering me on as I’m rounding the bases. It was a great moment to have, especially with this being my senior season.”

Duarte also pitched in relief that day, stifling the Cougars’ attack. He finished with five strikeouts and zero earned runs for the win. At the plate, he went 3 for 6 and was a triple shy of the cycle.

This past Monday, he again came through with a big at-bat and strong relief appearance in an 8-4 win over visiting Manteca. Sierra staked an early 5-0 lead, but the Buffaloes threatened to put together a long comeback inning in the fourth inning.

After allowing two inherited runners to score on a sacrifice fly and a sac bunt, Duarte got out of the inning with two straight strikeouts. In the bottom half of the inning, he tagged an RBI double to help swing momentum back in Sierra’s favor. He reached in all four of his plate appearances, and on the mound he fired four strikeouts in four innings.

“He has a presence about him,” Sierra coach Travis Thomson said. “When he’s on the mound, I know, the fans know and I think the other hitters start to know that he’s in control. He gets ahead early, he can throw fastball-curvebvall-changeup and he gives you that peace of mind when he’s pitching that, at the very least they’re going to have early their runs. As a great coach, that’s just a great feeling to have pitchers like Santi.”