Sierra worked its late-inning magic once again Wednesday, escaping Agostini Field with a 2-1 win over rival East Union to remain undefeated in Valley Oak League play with one regular-season game left.
The Timberwolves (11-0 VOL, 19-3-1 overall) have five one-run wins in league, and four others were decided by two. Late comebacks have become a routine occurrence for the ever-reslient VOL champs.
They took advantage of a fortunate bounce on Matt Dunham’s single that knocked in the tying and go-ahead runs in the top of the seventh inning. He connected on a 2-2 pitch from Fernando Segura and sent a chopper to standout second baseman Zach White, who was done in by the awkward hop of the ball.
“I was just thinking about getting a boring single, put the ball in play somewhere,” Dunham said. “The baseball gods were on our side.”
East Union (1-8, 9-13) was an out away from ending a frustrating losing skid that has been stretched to eight. The hard-luck Lancers were coming off a 5-4 eight-inning setback at Manteca.
“For me, I’m OK with it,” East Union coach Gene Ballardo said. “It’s the kids I feel bad for because they’ve been putting in the time and the effort day in and day out. They haven’t given up even with the season we’ve had thus far.”
Deshon Thomas (2 for 3) kept Sierra alive with a bloop single that dropped between White and right fielder Daniel Ruiz, who earlier made two difficult catches. Steven Eaves, pinch-hitting in the ninth spot, was then hit by a pitch. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch before Dunham’s winning hit.
“It was an ugly win but it was win — we’ll take it and run with it,” Sierra coach Travis Thomson said. “Happy with our approach in the last inning. Two outs, nobody on and they’re excited and thinking the game is already over.
“Deshon gets on base, steals second and is safe by inches. Then the next batter gets beaned by an off-speed pitch. Every little bit gives us a chance to win in the seventh. They give themselves a chance by getting those little victories. This is a tough group. They still think they’re going to win and nothing is changing that. They think they’re going to win every game that they play.”
It was a brutal defeat for the Lancers, who did all they could to earn the win. Segura had a two-hit shutout brewing in the seventh inning and finished with five strikeouts. He did hit four batters but was able to wriggle out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth.
“A bad hop and that’s the game,” Ballardo said. “It’s pretty cut and dry right there. The ball was not even hit hard, hit to our best defender and hits the lip.
“Fernando did a great job. He held them down very well, controlled their hitters 1 through 9. It just comes down to the one play there.”
The Lancers had opportunities to get some needed insurance runs after sophomore Jaydin Alvarez pummeled a double to right that plated Scotty Armstrong in the bottom of the third. Armstrong led off the inning with an infield single and scooted to second on an overthrow. East Union was unable to build on the momentum no thanks to an inning-ending double play in which a Lancer was penalized for runner’s interference.
East Union left the bases loaded in the fifth after Sierra starter Jason Silva beaned three straight batters with two outs and stranded 10 runners in all.
Jacob Frisk picked up his fifth save for the Timberwolves despite allowing two runners to reach on a walk and beanball to start the home half of the seventh. He made a big play on Ruiz’s bunt attempt one pitch later, throwing out lead runner Alvarez at third for the first out. Andrew Mount flew out deep to center field on the final play.
“They’re good,” Thomson said of East Union. “Their record doesn’t show how good of a team that is. They play the game very well.”
He also gave kudos to his starting hurler. Silva threw 109 pitches, scattering four hits while striking out 11.
“He has been good this year, but this was the best I’ve seen him all year,” Thomson said. “He stepped up when we really needed him.”
Sierra hosts East Union on Friday for its regular-season finale. The Lancers face off with Weston Ranch next week.
Sierra 7, East Union 5
Host Sierra (6-5, 13-7) scratched across the final three runs in the fifth and sixth innings and held on for the win.
Austin Frisk keyed the win, going 3 for 4 with a double and two runs scored. Zach Fonseca also roped a double. Sonny Elder was the winning pitcher after surrendering four hits and a walk.
East Union (6-3, 14-6), which led 5-4 after three innings, was powered by Evan Jeffery (3 for 4, run), Austin Orr (2 for 4, double, two RBIs) and Nolan Calmes (2 for 3).