It was a classic East Union-Manteca baseball battle Friday – three ties, three lead changes, two ejections, extra innings – and when the dust settled at Manteca High the Buffaloes kept their Valley Oak League playoff hopes alive with a thrilling 5-4 come-from-behind win.
Tied at 4-4 going into the bottom of the eighth, Austin Kovacs drew a two-out walk for Manteca (4-4 VOL, 13-8 overall). Dylan Guice followed with a walk bringing Cristian Tonna (2 for 3, RBI, run) to the plate. Tonna did not disappoint, lacing a single to right to plate Kovacs for the win.
“I just saw it coming and I took it the other way,” Tonna said. “It was awesome.”
Tonna came up big in the seventh when he reached on an error to start the frame. He advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt that precipitated a hard collision on the base path. That collision led to a Buffaloes player and coach being ejected, but the ejections appeared to fire up Manteca.
With the raucous home crowd cheering on leadoff batter Alex Gouveia (2 for 4, RBI, run), Gouveia singled in Tonna to tie the score.
“I live for moments like that in the seventh inning,” Gouveia said. “I just want to give my family the best shot of winning, like we are taught to do.”
Rafael Diaz went the distance for the win, getting stronger as the game went on. The Lancers (1-7, 9-12) scored their four runs in the first four innings and did not get a runner in scoring position after that. Diaz allowed seven hits and struck out five – four in the last four innings.
“Later on in the game I could tell I was getting stronger,” Diaz said. “I was popping it and striking more guys out compared to earlier in the game when they were hitting the ball.
“I really got settled in toward the end.”
Buffaloes coach Neil MacDannald was pleased with Diaz’s grit.
“Raf (Diaz) always gives us a chance to win,” MacDannald said. “He didn’t have his best stuff today but he kept battling and got us home.
“Defensively for the most part we played a pretty good game. We had a double play and although we had some fielding mistakes, the errors that hurt us were base-running errors and missed signs, things we work on a lot.”
After ties at 1-1 and 2-2, East Union started the fourth inning trailing 3-2. Christain Nuon doubled to lead off the fourth for the Lancers, scoring on a single by Scotty Armstrong (2 for 4, two RBI). Armstrong scored on a two-out error of the bat of Carlos Alvarez for a 4-3 lead that would hold until the seventh inning.
“The thing that sticks out the most about this game is that it’s really the first time all year that we were down and came back,” MacDannald said. “The fact that we were down, tied it up and then held them, along with some dudes down in the order produce in the bottom of the eighth, is huge.”
Back-to-back first-inning doubles by Cameron Ceja (2 for 4, double, run) and Andrew Mount (RBI) put the Lancers ahead 1-0. Evan Heath doubled to lead off the East Union second and scored on a seeing-eye single by Armstrong for a 2-1 Lancers lead.
“That was your traditional Manteca-East Union battle,” East Union coach Gene Ballardo said. “We gave them two runs on errors but after that when you play a cross-town rival like this it’s just going to be back and forth, back and forth.
“It was a great ball game all around with nothing to be mad about. My kids competed but we just came out short. They did a great job and I am proud of them.”
The Buffaloes face Central Catholic and Kimball the next two weeks, tied with the Raiders for the fourth and final VOL playoff slot and a game behind the Jaguars
“Our backs are against the wall and we have one game at a time in front of us,” MacDannald said. “We are going to have a playoff-type atmosphere because of the situation we put ourselves in.
“We are hoping we power through this and then when the actual playoffs start we will be ready – seasoned, not nervous. We have to have a little more urgency and limit the mental mistakes. Maybe this was for the best. Maybe we gained some confidence having to win like that.”.
East Union 5, Manteca 3
Benny Slaughter pitched 6.2 innings of one-run ball with six strikeouts for the win and Dylan Silva scored two runs to lead the Lancers.
East Union broke a 2-2 tie with four runs in the top half of the seventh inning. Evan Jeffery walked twice, scored once and had an RBI single for the Lancers and Austin Orr came on to strike out the only batter he faced on four pitches to earn the save.
Dylan DePrater went 1 for 3 with a walk and scored twice for Manteca.