It wasn’t too long ago when David Hager had those “here we go again” moments as Weston Ranch’s baseball coach.
A couple mistakes would lead to an early deficit and …
“That was it,” Hager said.
The snowball effect that once plagued Weston Ranch is no longer there.
These Cougars, led by four-year starters C.J. Drain and Manuel Rubio, are actually playing in meaningful games this late in the season, and they are within reach of the program’s Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berth.
Weston Ranch took a big step toward its ultimate goal on Tuesday, toppling East Union 9-4 at Agostini Field.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” Drain said. “Just to know where we started to where we are now, we are a good ball team and I’m proud to say that. I’m happy to be on this team.”
It was a much-needed win for the Cougars (5-5, 14-8 overall), one of four clubs — all representing Manteca Unified schools — in the Valley Oak League competing for the two remaining postseason spots. Oakdale has already clinched the VOL title and a playoff bid with three games remaining.
East Union (7-4, 13-8) drops into a second-place tie with Manteca, which just so happens to be its final opponent for the regular season. Sierra remains a game back of its two cross-town rivals. Weston Ranch still has to wrap up its April 12 showdown with Central Catholic, which was called due to rain with the score tied at 1-1.
“We have some work ahead of us,” Hager said. “We play in a very tough league and the goal has always been to make the playoffs. We just have to keep believing in our ability and get it done any way we can.”
That was the case on Tuesday after the Lancers built a 4-0 lead. Andrew Morones delivered the first big blow in the bottom of the first, driving in Daniel Marquez (walked) with a double. Tyler Slaughter drilled a leadoff double to spark a three-run rally in the second inning capped by Brayden Hardcastle’s RBI double.
East Union’s bats went silent from there. Mason James and Jacob Sousa drew back-to-back walks to start the third but were left stranded in scoring position. The Lancers were also done in by errors and committed four total.
“Offensively we had been able to get some timely hitting and we did not do that today,” East Union coach Dan Triglia said. “Defensively we’ve been solid and had three straight games without an error and obviously today that did not happen. We did not take care of the ball today.”
Weston Ranch could not capitalize in the second when its first two batters reached on errors and left the bases loaded.
They busted out in the top of the third. Larry Martinez was hit by a pitch to start the frame, and Rylan Tinsley (2 for 3) punctuated the three-run rally with a two-RBI double. The Ranch strung together four consecutive hits.
“We know we can come back and win the game no matter what the score is,” C.J. Drain said.
Carlos Drain (2 for 4) highlighted Weston Ranch’s four-run fifth with an RBI double. C.J. Drain (2 for 4, two runs, two RBIs) cracked a run-scoring double of his own in the sixth and plated his team’s last run of the game on Bowen’s single to left. Rubio finished 2 for 2 with two runs.
“It took a little while for us to get it rolling,” Hager said. “It’s the little things we are starting to do that give us a chance to be successful, and the guys realize that now.”
C.J. Drain was the emergency starter on the pitcher’s mound and gave up four runs (three earned) in two innings. Bowen pitched five scoreless innings in relief but issued five walks. He allowed just one hit.
“C.J. wasn’t scheduled to start, Manuel Rubio was,” Hager said. “Manuel came to me and said his arm wasn’t feeling right. C.J. didn’t have his best stuff but he battled for two innings.
“Amier was just missing here and there but never gave in. He’s a strike thrower, and our guys know to be ready on defense and they were able to make some plays behind him.”