East Union lost a pitcher’s duel to Central Catholic on Wednesday.
The Lancers were then dusted in a hit fest in the series finale Friday at Agostini Field, as they couldn’t overcome three early home runs, six errors and rally-killing base-running mistakes in a 16-5 setback.
The Raiders (7-3, 13-9 overall) have won five of their last six after getting swept in their Valley Oak League-opening series with Sierra and are even with Oakdale for second place. East Union (5-5, 8-11) is alone in fourth but has little room for error in its final four contests with one of four Sac-Joaquin Section III playoff berths still within reach.
“We just did not play well enough to win a ballgame,” East Union coach Dan Triglia said. “Bottom line, we had some guys on base and scored some runs but we didn’t play a full seven. We didn’t defensively back up our pitchers, and that’s been a strength of ours. It was a situation where we did not play up to our expectations and our capabilities.”
Seven of Central Catholic’s runs were unearned, including all five in the sixth inning. Utah-bound standout Sam Mundt went 4 for 5 with two doubles, a homer, two RBIs and four runs. He and Austin Escobar, who also plated four runs, hacked back-to-back jacks in the third to give the Raiders a 4-0 lead.
The tone was set at the start of the game, as Eagan Fierro reached on an infield error to set up Trey Nichols’ two-run homer.
Winning pitcher Nathan Clark helped himself by going 3 for 5 with five RBIs from the No. 7 spot in the order. Central Catholic finished with 12 hits and faced five East Union pitchers.
“We have a well-balanced lineup,” Central Catholic coach Danny Ayala said. “There’s a game plan to everything we’re doing and everyone really knows their role. What we started to separate this week more than anything is playing pitch to pitch and putting the at-bats together and really making the pitcher work rather than just going up there and swinging the bat.”
The Lancers didn’t let Central Catholic’s power display get them down in the early going. Adrian Sevier-Affleje was their first base runner after he roped a one-out, groundball single up the middle in the bottom of the third. He scored on Eric Flores’ fielder’s choice, and Gyse Hulsebosch and Marco Gonzales followed with consecutive doubles to close the Lancers in 4-3.
Affleje (2 for 2, walk) scored again on a passed ball in the fifth, and Gonzales (2 for 4) drove in East Union’s final run with a single with Central Catholic holding a 9-5 lead.
“I thought we had good fight, I thought we had good enthusiasm, it just wasn’t enough to carry the day,” Triglia said. “You’ve gotta play good baseball and we didn’t play good baseball today.”
Base-running mishaps stunted East Union rallies throughout. In the fourth, with the Lancers still trailing by a run, Sevier-Affleje led off with a single but was picked off at first. Lucas Dias then reached on an infield single and was doubled off at first after Devin Abrew lined out to second. The Lancers’ half of the fifth ended in similar fashion, with Nichols turning the unassisted double play from the second-base after catching Brayden Hardcastle’s sharp line drive.
East Union threatened with a two-out rally in the sixth with Affleje and Daniel Marquez belting two straight singles. Mason James, hit by a pitch to start the inning, raced home on Marquez’s knock, but his run did not count as Affleje was thrown out at third by Central Catholic left fielder Jacob Days.
East Union totaled nine hits.
“Our base running left a little bit to be a desired today,” Triglia said. “We ran ourselves out of a couple of different innings where we could possibly score some runs. We had some opportunities there and we kind of gave those away.”
The Lancers have a tough closing stretch to the regular season with much-improved Weston Ranch and first-place Manteca looming. They head to the Ranch next Wednesday.
“We just have to move forward,” Gonzales said. “We have a lot of games left and a lot of ground (to make up). “Coach ‘T’ always preaches to us this is the VOL, there are no breaks every week and we always have to battle. Weston Ranch is no joke, so we have to come out strong.”