Manteca may have gotten a sneak preview of what’s to come in the Valley Oak League on Thursday.
West ace Damien Vallejos baffled Buffaloes batters with his off-speed and breaking pitches, striking out 11 in a combined three-hitter and 3-1 victory for the visiting Wolf Pack from Tracy.
“That pitcher is very good, but I’m glad we faced him because every guy we’ll see in our league is going to be that good or better,” Manteca coach Neil MacDannald said. “Hats off to that dude, he threw really well and West made more plays than we did. They played hard.”
Vallejos was able to work ahead in counts and freeze hitters with third-strike curveballs. Manteca (6-4) showed signs of solving the puzzle in the late innings but had nothing to show for its more aggressive approach and hard-hit balls to defenders.
The Buffs finally broke through in the seventh when Nathan Gutierrez led off with a walk. Rafael Diaz worked the count full before Vallejos was replaced by William Aviles due to high count.
Dominic Day singled to right, and Alex Gouveia belted a two-out double to right to plate Gutierrez. Aviles induced a grounder to middle infielder David Polumba on the next pitch for the save.
Day earlier got Manteca’s first hit, outrunning a throw from third in the third inning.
“Probably could have been a little more aggressive early and not get to two-strike situations,” MacDannald said. “(Vallejos) has a real nice curveball, and when someone has a weapon like that you don’t want to give him a chance to use it with two strikes.”
Manteca, with non-league games today and next Tuesday, is putting its entire pitching staff to work as it gears up for the VOL opener against Weston Ranch on Wednesday. Ryan Ward, who recently committed to Pacific struck out six over three innings but allowed a run, two hits and three walks. He was followed by Dylan Gross, Isaiah Perez and Dylan Guice on the mound.
“We’ll do the same thing tomorrow (against Downey),” MacDannald said. “We feel like we have about eight guys who can throw strikes so we’ll give them a chance. We’re going with ‘Johnny Wholestaff,’ as they call it, for the next couple games until we start league. All of them give us a chance to win a game.”
Manteca did well to stay within reach after committing two errors in the sixth inning. Polomba, who finished 2 for 3 with a walk, stroked an RBI single in the inning but that was all West (5-2) could muster.
Vallejos helped himself at the plate with a double and a run in the fifth inning, going 2 for 4.
After hosting Downey today, Manteca travels to Lodi next Tuesday to face Tokay. Weston Ranch visits the following day.
“This is our 10th game,” MacDannald said. “We’re young, but we’re 10 games in and it’s too late to be young. There are no more excuses about lack of experience. We just have to take care of the ball a little better and be a little more competitive at the plate.
“The ingredients are there, we just have to decide to come ready to play and do all facets of the game the right way.”
Manteca 5, West 3
The Buffaloes improved their undefeated record to 8-0. Kaeden Luke sparked them with a two-out, two-run single in the third inning.
Nathan Harnden, Quino Gurrola and Amrit Dehal each added an RBI single. Joel Gallo had two strikeouts and no walks in four innings. Gurrola got the save.