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Castaneda, Le Grand lock down Ripon Christian
Le Grand-Ripon Christian baseball
Ripon Christian’s Grant Sonke (15) steps on the third base-bag behind Le Grand’s Cash Sapien. GARY JENSEN/

For a team that has had limited practice and playing time on the field because of heavy rainstorms in its Merced County community, Le Grand looked sharp all-around Wednesday in a 3-0 win at Ripon Christian.

The Southern Athletic League-opening series concludes Friday and possibly back at Ripon Christian, if the Bulldogs’ ballfield remains unplayable.

“I gotta give them credit, because they haven’t been able to get on the field and I don’t think they made an error today,” Ripon Christian coach John de Visser said. “Aaron (Martinez) can coach, he can flat-out coach. And he is doing a heck of a job with those guys. I gotta do a better job, apparently.”

Le Grand (1-1), which had all but one of its previous games called off because of inclement weather, did have two errors on mishandled pickoff plays, but it did matter with the way Carlos Castaneda was rolling on the mound. The senior lefty wriggled out of early jams and finished with eight strikeouts and no walks in his four-hit gem. He needed just 80 pitches to get through all seven innings.

“Their guy did a heck of a job,” de Visser said. “It was strike 1, strike 2, and it wasn’t like we were being aggressive early in the count. We had a couple of one-pitch at-bats, but for the most part, we worked it to four or five pitches in but that guy was pounding the strike zone. When you do that in any high school game, it doesn’t matter, if you’re pounding the strike zone, that’s going to make it tough to score.”

The Knights’ best opportunities came in the second, third and fourth innings, each ending with a runner in scoring position. In the second, Dustin Hoekstra led off with a single to left but was doubled off after Micah English flied out to right field. Hoekstra took off for second on a steal attempt when English swung at the 0-2 offering.

“That was a greenlight (to) steal,” de Vissser said. “(Hoekstra) had a good jump, it was just (hit) at the wrong guy. If that’s hit anywhere else on the field, he probably makes it back. We’re not going to hit-and-run (with an) 0-2 (count). It was a good piece, just to the wrong guy. It was all day.”

As luck would have it, Luke Crivello drilled a double to left after English’s pop-out.  

Grant Sonke reached on a two-out infield single in the third inning and wound up on third on a botched pickoff attempt from a steal. Eli Terpsma led off the fourth with an infield hit but was left stranded on third as Castaneda fanned the next three batters.

English and Hoekstra combined for a three-hitter, but the tandem also issued seven walks. English struck out 10 and walked five over the first five innings.

The Bulldogs did not get the ball out of the infield until Diego Martinez’s well-struck double down the third-base line to start the seventh inning. Castaneda drove him in with a single.

Le Grand’s first two runs came in the fourth, thanks to a two-out throwing error. With Cash Sapien (walked) and Benjamin Reyes (infield single) in scoring position, English made a nice snag on Julian Bucio’s chopper to the third-base side of the mound, but the throw to first was well off the mark.

“They did a good job of executing,” de Visser said. “They put the ball in play in the right spots and we did not. They made the plays.

“We gotta coach them up and get them better. We gotta figure it out quick, because in the Southern League, you can’t lose very many of these games and expect to come out with the championship. One loss, maybe two, but that’s it. We have some tough competition coming up and a lot of three-or-four-game weeks because of all the rain. If we don’t figure this out, we’re going to find ourselves in a hole.”

Ripon Christian (2-2) has a non-league tune-up today at home against Weston Ranch. It gives players such as Crivello and Terpsma — they recently joined the club after leading the basketball team to the Division V NorCal final — another opportunity to knock off the rust. The Knights will not have one of their top players all season in Jacob Kowes, who is out with an ACL and MCL tears from football.

“I’m still missing two more guys, but that doesn’t matter,” de Visser said. “These guys still should have competed better today.”