Clutch hitting was again the difference for East Union on Thursday, when the host Lancers completed their series sweep of Sierra with a 4-1 victory at Agostini Field.
They were outhit 9-3 but had run-scoring doubles from Dylan Lee and John Perazzo.
“Our guys, when it’s time to be clutch, they find a way to be clutch,” East Union assistant coach Mikey Matthews said. “We’ve struggled to hit all year, but the timely hitting is starting to come around and we’re putting better at-bats together. We’re starting to get to that approach that coach (Kris) Hensley has been trying to implement all year long. They’re starting to get it, and the results are coming when they need to come.”
Sierra starter Tyler Looney kept East Union hitless through three-plus innings. With two out in the fourth, he jumped ahead of Justin Severson in the count 0-2 but gave up a sharp single to right. Lee then drilled his two-bagger to deep left-center field to push the Lancers ahead for good, 2-1.
East Union (4-2 Valley Oak League, 8-7 overall) got its insurance runs in the next inning. Ryan Van Arsdaell drew a leadoff walk, and the Timberwolves opted to intentionally walk Jacob Toste to put runners on the corners. The decision backfired for Sierra (2-2, 7-11), as Toste stole second while Perazzo worked the count to 3-1. He took advantage of the opportunity, driving in both runners with a drive to deep right.
“Coach was talking to me about just waiting for my pitch and not helping them out,” Perazzo said. “He told me to maybe think about slash bunting and pulling it back, but he didn’t really give me a good pitch to hit until that last one.”
East Union didn’t need a hit for its first run. Mateo Guevara and Evan Jeffery reached on two-out walks in the bottom of the first inning.
Guevara got to third on a wild pitch before Jeffery was issued his free pass. Jeffery was caught in a rundown but somehow reached second safely. In the meantime, Guevara stole home to tie the game, 1-1.
“It’s a gut punch,” Sierra coach Travis Thomson said. “It’s something that you work on. We practice for a reason. You usually don’t see that at it this level because it gets handled so easily.”
Mitch Van Zwaluwenburg plated Sierra’s lone run after hitting a single in the first. He advanced to third on a throwing error while stealing second and later scored on a passed ball.
That was all the T’wolves could muster, however. They left 10 base runners stranded, including six in scoring position. Santi Duarte (2 for 2, walk) and Zac Cook started the second inning with singles but were unable to score.
“In 14 innings this week, we had 11 innings with a runner (in scoring position), and we get one run on a passed ball,’ Thomson said. “We have to do better with situational hitting. That’s our single biggest issue right now. It’s too bad, because Tyler pitched a heck of a game. Giving up three hits to that team, the pitching effort deserves a win. Our offense isn’t holding up their end of the deal when the other part of our team is.”
Looney was replaced after giving up four runs on four hits and three walks over 4 1/3 innings. He also struck out six. Zac Cook went the rest of the way for Sierra, striking out two and walking one.
East Union seems to finally have its rotation settled with Zach Grabowski and Dylan Lee sharing Thursday duties in league. Grabowski, a left-handed sophomore, scattered six hits, walked one and struck out three in 4-plus innings for the win. Lee earned the long save, firing five strikeouts.
With projected ace pitcher Ashton Heath out for the entire season with a knee injury, East Union’s coaches were tasked with filling the Day 2 spot with Jeffery moving into the No. 1 role and performing admirably.
“Having those two has been a blessing,” Matthews said of Grabowski and Lee, two different types of pitchers. “So far, we’ve been really lucky with that, and we’ve been able to save other arms.”
After splitting its first two VOL series with Oakdale and Manteca, East Union finds itself a game back of first-place Central Catholic. The Lancers take on Weston Ranch next week, while Sierra gets CC.
“It’s always good to sweep a cross-town rival, that’s for sure, but this put us back in a good spot for what our end goal is, which is to get to the playoffs and win a VOL championship,” Matthews said. “We’ve been battling through a lot of adversity and are still trying to figure out who we are.
“We’re a young team that is starting to come into our own. We’re swinging the bat and we’re playing good defense and throwing strikes, which was something we were really struggling to do at the beginning of the year.”