Manteca was 15 outs from missing out on a postseason berth altogether after starting the Valley Oak League season with a two-game lead in the standings through eight games.
Down 4-0 to visiting Sierra, which punched its playoff ticket with Monday’s 6-4 win over the Buffaloes, things were looking bleak.
“I thought it was turning out like last game,” Manteca pitcher Jacob Corn said. “Nothing was going our way and the umpire was squeezing (the strike zone). But it was only the second inning and there was a lot of baseball left.”
Manteca’s struggling offense awakened just in time, scoring 11 unanswered runs en route to an 11-4 win. The Buffaloes (10-4 VOL, 16-7 overall) secured the league’s No. 2 seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV bracket, while Sierra (9-5, 16-9-1) is the third.
Manteca will make its sixth postseason appearance in seven years, while Sierra returns after an eight-year drought.
“The kids responded well to adversity,” Manteca coach Gene Ballardo said. “I know we haven’t been playing our best, but I think those days are past us. Today there were a lot of positives.
“They could have folded down 4-0, but instead they took the bull by the horns and ran with it. They showed a lot of backbone, which I like.”
Manteca hit the double-digit mark in runs scored for the first time since March 21 when it drubbed Weston Ranch 11-0. The Buffaloes finished with 11 hits and got four productive at-bats from their pitcher. Corn doubled, was intentionally walked, drove in a run on a groundout and singled to finish 2 for 3.
Alex Jorgensen came up big in the bottom third of Manteca’s order, going 2 for 3 with three RBIs. His two-run single in the bottom of the third tied it at 4-4. Cleanup batter Buddy Reeder was 2 for 4 with two runs and an RBI, and Lucas Vaughn was 2 for 2 with an RBI and a run.
“We haven’t been hitting all that well, so hopefully this will spark something for the playoffs,” Corn said.
Corn righted the ship after a spotty start from the mound. He was able to leave two runners stranded in the first, but in the second he helped jump start Sierra’s big rally by throwing away a pickoff attempt to put Gerald Parente on third with one out.
Corn later issued back-to-back two-out walks and hit Kyle Oden to drive in the first run. Sierra’s Dakota Conners continued the onslaught with a two-run single, and Jake Pruitt drove in the final run with an infield hit.
Manteca’s ace took control, retiring the next seven batters. Sierra, trailing 7-4, had a chance to get back in the game in the fifth when it had three on with one out in the fifth, but Manteca shortstop Michael Garibay turned a big unassisted 6-4 double play.
“I thought the big play was when they turned the double play,” Sierra coach Jack Thomson said. “At that time a base hit would have made it 7-6 and we’d extend Corn.
“We just let it get away from us. We got out to a 4-0 start but we didn’t play the way we’ve been playing the last five or six games. We just didn’t pitch well today and kind of lost momentum.”
Sierra used up four pitchers who combined for seven walks (one intentional), two hit batters and eight earned runs.
Making matters worse, the Timberwolves lost Pruitt (2 for 2), their starting catcher, after he took a foul ball from Jorgensen to the mask in the second inning.
“It takes our 4 hitter out of the lineup as well as our catcher, but I don’t think it was the difference,” Thomson said. “When I saw him his eyes were a little glassy, and I didn’t think it warranted taking a chance.”
The SJS Division IV playoffs begin Monday, May 13 with the outbracket game between the third seeds from the Sierra Valley and Western Athletic conferences. Manteca squares off with SVC No. 2 El Dorado on May 16, while Sierra is paired with the WAC champion, Central Catholic or Ceres, on May 15.
Manteca will look to get even with El Dorado after a heartbreaking 4-3 extra-inning loss in last year’s opening round.