East Union had already battled back twice from deficits, and Brayden Hardcastle came oh so close to tying it back up in the bottom of the 11th inning against visiting Ceres at Agostini Field on Friday.
The junior slugger tagged Ismael Ontiveros’ 2-2 offering to left-center field, but the ball caromed off the top half of the fence. Hardcastle settled for a leadoff double.
“I just put my head down and ran,” he said. “All my at-bats before that I were not very smooth, so for that one I just focused on having a smooth, sound swing and it was just a nice hit.”
It was also the last hit for the Lancers. Hardcastle was left stranded on third, and Ontiveros induced a groundball with the bases loaded to help Ceres escape with a 6-5 win.
“It’s really hard, especially because I know we can play way better than we did,” Hardcastle said. “I think we beat ourselves up a little bit. We could have gotten the ‘W’ had we played sound baseball.”
East Union (5-3) stranded 16 runners in all and were done in by base-running blunders throughout. The Bulldogs (7-2) also had their struggles at the plate despite 17 hits. They had leadoff base runners reach in all but three innings and left 11 on base.
Ceres had a chance to open up a wider lead in the top of the 11th after loading the bases with no out. Austin Schmidt started the winning rally with an infield single, Gabe Jimenez (4 for 5) beat the throw to first for a hit on a sacrifice bunt and Brock DeWitt (2 for 5) reached on a throwing error on his bunt. Two batters later, Adrian Lujan grounded out to second but drove in Jimenez in the process.
“Great game against a great team,” Ceres coach Clinton Goblirsch said. “We were able to get a couple leads but they kept coming back — that’s what baseball’s all about. We made some mistakes and they made some mistakes, but I was glad we grinded it out in the end.”
Ontiveros threw the final seven innings in relief and managed to get the decision after surrendering seven hits and six walks. East Union was walked 11 times total and swatted 10 hits. Losing pitcher Jacob Sousa allowed just one run and threw six innings.
Gyse Hulsebosch (2 for 6) sparked the Lancers early. With his team trailing 3-0, he blasted a two-out, three-run triple to right in the fourth inning. Tyler Slaughter (2 for 6), Scott Morenzone (1 for 3, three walks) and Alejandro Flores (1 for 3, two walks, sacrifice bunt) were productive from the bottom third of the lineup.
“We need a lot more of that,” Hardcastle said. “We’re a good-hitting team, we just haven’t shown it yet. It’s time that we start showing it.”
Hardcastle (2 for 5) had the Lancers’ other big knock, driving in a pair on his single to left in the sixth. Ceres recaptured the lead in the previous inning, getting a two-run single from Blane Abeyta (3 for 6).
Leadoff batter Jake Harries played a big part in both of East Union’s rallies, reaching on catcher’s interference each time. The Lancers had potential threats get thwarted right away in the fifth and ninth innings when leadoff batters reached but got picked off just moments later.
“If we clean up some of our mental issues and execution issues we’ll be in better shape,” East Union coach Dan Triglia said. “We still have to work to do. I love the way the kids fought, we just need to be able to understand game situations.”
Much of East Union’s highlights were on defense. It got three outs at the plate over the final five innings, turned two double plays and got a strong effort from Hardcastle at catcher.
“Those are things we can continue to build on,” Triglia said. “We have to continue to get ready for league and get after it in a couple of weeks because the (Valley Oak League) is the toughest league around as far as I’m concerned.”
The Lancers wrap up their nonleague schedule next week with games against Linden, Escalon and Merced. They open league action March 28 at Oakdale.
East Union 4, Ceres 3
With the game tied in the bottom of the seventh, Evan Heath and George Gaytan smacked back-to-back hits with two outs, and Logan Harries followed with the walk-off knock.
Alex Alexander went 2 for 3 with a double and two RBIs, and Daniel Ruiz plated a pair of runs. Gaytan was the winning pitcher after he gave up two unearned runs that allowed Ceres to tie it in the seventh.