Clutch in close-game situations for much of the season, Sierra’s magic finally wore off Friday in the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.
Tenth-seeded Ponderosa knocked off the No. 2 Timberwolves 2-1, scoring twice on plays in which the ball didn’t leave the infield while sophomore Stanford commit Tyler Uber keyed a second straight upset victory.
Sierra (21-4-1) had a 13-game winning streak snapped, a stretch that included an outright Valley Oak League championship under first-year coach Travis Thomson. Only one of those wins were decided by more than four runs and three others ended in extra innings.
“It was bound to happen always being in games like this,” Thomson said. “That’s just baseball. Kudos to the kids for battling every day they came out here.”
He also gave kudos to the scrappy Bruins (15-15) from Shingle Springs, who stunned No. 7 Christian Brothers 2-0 on Tuesday. Christian Brothers reached the last three Division III finals, winning in 2017.
Ponderosa advances to the double-elimination stage of the tournament and takes on No. 3 Atwater next Monday at the University of the Pacific’s Klein Field. Top-seeded Buhach Colony and No. 5 Oakdale are in the other semifinal.
“You notice a lot about teams when they get here and I could tell they came here with a purpose,” Thomson said. “They executed and played a great game. I think we played a great game, too, they were just able to execute on a few things that we couldn’t.”
Ponderosa struck first in this pitchers’ duel pitting Sierra senior lefty Slyder Blyth and the 6-foot-4 Uber. Blyth overcame a shaky start and managed to go the distance in his final game for the Timberwolves. He struck out four and only gave up three hits but walked five — three in the first inning.
“He had to work a little bit harder today but he only gave up three hits today — he didn’t give up very many hits this year,” Thomson said. “He gave us a chance to win, and that’s what he’s done all year for us.”
Ponderosa clean-up hitter Griffin Williams went 2 for 2 and plated both of his club’s runs. He poked a groundball single through the middle in the fourth inning and later wound up on third thanks to an errant throw on his steal at second.
Williams scored on Cameron Orr’s grounder to Sierra shortstop Jesse Ortiz-Martinez, who made a great back-handed stop and gunned down the batter at first with an off-balance throw.
Ortiz-Martinez wasn’t done yet. In the bottom half of the inning, he drilled the first pitch to right for a solo homer.
“I thought that gave our team that extra edge,” Ortiz-Martinez said. “We had a little momentum for a little bit, we just couldn’t build on that.”
Sierra flashed its defensive prowess again in the fifth when catcher Julian Cantu caught a short pop-up off the bat of Brody Ono and quickly zipped it to Ortiz-Martinez for a force out of pinch-runner Julian Vazquez at second.
Ponderosa capitalized on its next opportunity in the seventh. Williams led off with a first-pitch single to left and advanced on Orr’s sacrifice bunt. Williams moved to third on Devon Suske’s groundout to the pitcher and plated the deciding run on Mason Hobert’s infield hit.
Bruins coach Ben Petersen said that sequence typifies his team’s approach this season.
“Early in the season we didn’t play clean catch, we didn’t get bunts down and that led to a lot of our losses,” he said. “We continued to practice it and didn’t go away from it. They bought into it. That’s just the team that we are. We don’t leave the yard much; we just get it done with what we got.
“When we have that stud,” Petersen continued, nodding in Uber’s direction, “all we need is two runs. We don’t rely on the homer.”
Not exactly true — Uber did blast a homer for the lone runs of the Bruins’ 2-0 win over Christian Brothers. Suske struck out nine over 6 1/3 innings and Uber fanned the final two for the save.
On Friday, Uber matched Blyth’s three-hitter with one of his own, striking out eight against one walk. Freshman Brenden Rapisura accounted for one of those hits for Sierra, and Cantu had the other.
Deshon Thomas drew a one-out walk but was left stranded on second on Sierra’s final trip to the plate as Uber got out of it with two grounders.
“Everyone looks down on us, I feel like,” Uber said. “We’re the No. 10 seed and no one really knows where Ponderosa is — we’re up in the hills by Tahoe. I love playing with these guys and I know they’ll always show out for me. I hope we can keep this going.”