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Late rally wrecks Ripon
Patterson comeback leads to unlikely second-round matchup
Ripon sophomore slugger Zach Evans connects for an infield single. - photo by HIME ROMERO
LODI — Destiny appeared to be on the side of the underdogs in the Sac-Joaquin Section’s opening round of the Division V playoffs.

The last of three upsets came in the night cap Wednesday at Tony Zupo Field, where Patterson rallied for three runs in the top of the seventh inning and sealed it with a textbook 6-4-3 double play to upend Ripon, 7-6.

Anthony Sanchez (3 for 5, two runs, two RBIs) drove in the deciding run with a single to left field.

Ripon couldn’t capitalize in the bottom half of the final inning after leading off with back-to-back walks. A sacrifice bunt attempt was fielded nicely by winning pitcher Brett Wheeland for the first out, and Tyler Bettencourt induced the game-ending double play on just the second pitch of his appearance for the save.

“It’s really tough, but that’s baseball” said Ripon standout center fielder Kyle Wagner. “They were the better team today, (but) I thought we had a chance to make (the finals).”

Patterson (10-17), the Western Athletic Conference’s second-seeded team, came into the contest winless in non-league play.

Earlier Wednesday, Hilmar, seeded third out of the WAC, eliminated Mother Lode League champion Bret Harte, 5-3. And on Tuesday, previously undefeated Escalon, the postseason favorite, was stunned in a 9-1 loss to MLL runner-up Calaveras.

That leaves Central Catholic, the defending Division V champion, as the remaining club expected to vie for the title.

Ripon (11-12) was one of the hottest teams going in having won eight of its last 11, and with Hilmar, a team it had no problem sweeping in a two-game set over spring break, looming in the second round, a trip to the section finals seemed to be a real possibility.

Instead, the three teams that are representing the WAC move on, with Hilmar and Patterson meeting Saturday in the first of a best-of-three series.

“It’s a tough one to lose, but hey, we played hard,” said second-year Ripon coach Mark Whelan, who led the Indians to their first playoff berth since 2005. “Hats off to those guys. They battled and they earned it.”

Ripon staked a 5-1 lead in the third, but to Patterson’s credit it managed to stay within striking distance after its coach Benji Lozano was ejected for arguing a call at the plate in the same inning.

The Tigers took advantage of wild pitching and a costly infield error to close the gap to one in the top of the fourth. Ripon was able to limit the damage with one of its three double plays and a stellar diving catch made by Johnny DeDonatis in shallow right field

“Our defense played tremendously,” Whelan said. “That was the best defense we’ve ever played.”

Ripon struggled from the mound, where four different pitchers combined to give up nine hits and six walks to no strikeouts.

Early base-running errors also did the Indians in, as they were caught in three pickles for outs during the first two innings.

“It was just a couple of mistakes by base runners being too anxious,” Whelan said. “It was the jitters I guess. They took too big a lead and got caught. There were no plays on, they were just caught.”

Seniors Camden Dowhower, Colby Gomes and Wagner left their mark. Dowhower was 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI from the top of the lineup; Wagner finished 1 for 2 with a double and two runs; and Gomes cracked a run-scoring double and later scored in the third.

Sophomore Zach Evans added a 2-for-2 effort with a run. Evans, the starting catcher, spearheads the Indians’ youth movement that includes five sophomores and four juniors that are expected to return next year.

“This is a learning experience,” he said. “Us sophomores, we have two more years of this. We’re going to try to be back here twice and hopefully be on the winning side of it.”