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Late arrival has given Sierra a boost
BASE -- Jakob Gallagher profile2 4-24-15
Sierra Highs Jakob Gallagher will start on the mound today in Oakdale, where the Timberwolves look to complete the sweep and widen their lead in the Valley Oak League standings. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

Jack Thomson encourages today’s student-athletes to play as many sports as possible, but as the baseball coach of several basketball players, the longtime Sierra High skipper has also been a victim of that phenomena.

In some respects, he lives on both sides of the discussion.

On one hand, he believes the number of multi-sport athletes on his roster – nine of 22 – makes his team competitive and deeper than most.

That point was proven during Wednesday’s 4-2 victory over Oakdale. Three-sport star and Valley Oak League basketball co-MVP Hunter Johnson stepped in and played first base for Anthony Arredondo, who replaced the injured Jake Souza behind the dish.

On the other hand, a historically prolonged basketball season meant Thomson had to wait on several of those multi-talented players to round into baseball shape, including today’s starting pitcher Jakob Gallagher.

The wait has been worth it.

Gallagher finished his junior season on a tear, inspiring confidence in Thomson and assistant coach Greg Wilson, who handles the Timberwolves’ pitching staff. They envisioned the 6-foot-3, 190-pound left-hander becoming a complement to lefty ace Leo Soto, the paint-the-edges technician to Gallagher’s swing-and-miss ability.

It has taken Gallagher three weeks to stretch out his arm, and the timing of his emergence has been impeccable. Sierra (8-1, 14-4-1) can complete the sweep and take a commanding lead in the Valley Oak League standings today in Oakdale (7-2, 11-8).

First pitch is set 4 p.m.

By virtue of Wednesday’s come-from-behind victory, Sierra sits one game up on the Mustangs and three games clear of Manteca (5-4) and Central Catholic (5-4).

The four have separated themselves in the playoff race. The top-four teams in the VOL advance to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.

Sierra is gunning for the No. 1 seed and a clean sweep of the VOL’s major sports championships. The Timberwolves earned a split of the football crown and then ran away with their fourth straight hoops title en route to a Division III section banner.

Gallagher, a reserve guard on the basketball team, can inch the baseball team closer to that pedestal today.

He is 3-0 in four starts with a 0.44 ERA. He has allowed one earned run in 16 innings, and he’s averaging a strikeout every third batter. Last week, Gallagher announced his arrival as a bona fide starter with a five-inning no-hitter against Kimball.

“He gets guys to swing and miss and we didn’t really have a guy that made hitters swing and miss last year until he started throwing for us toward the end of last year,” Thomson said. “He makes guys swing and miss, and he’s a two-sport guy. He’s a competitor. Some of these guys that play just one sport are missing out.”

Gallagher throws a fastball that tails away from right-handers, a slider and a change-up.

He struck out eight in just four innings against Manteca, helped Sierra avoid a surprise sweep at the hands of East Union with six strikeouts in six innings, and then fanned five against Kimball.

“He has so much upside,” Thomson said. “We got him March 20. That’s when we got him, because they (the basketball team) went to NorCals and won a game. He’s really only in his third week of preseason, so I’m sure he’ll give us a good effort.”