Not often has the Sierra High baseball team been caught in such a precarious situation.
Yet, there they were – a pack of timid Timberwolves stuck on a diamond with a raging, grunting bull.
East Union ace-in-the-making Marco “Toro” Gonzales lived up to his nickname on Wednesday afternoon, hurling a one-hit shutout against the top team in the Valley Oak League.
Gonzales struck out nine and carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning as East Union tamed the Timberwolves 4-0.
The loss snapped Sierra’s six-game winning streak and created a logjam atop the league standings.
Sierra (4-1) and Oakdale (5-1) are tied in the loss column, two games clear of Manteca, Central Catholic and Kimball.
East Union improved to 2-3 and will look to sweep its crosstown rival on Friday at Agostini Field.
“Our kids played their hearts out. They played the best we’ve played all year,” East Union coach Dan Triglia said. “Marco, obviously, did a good job on the bump throwing that one-hitter and our defense backed him up. We’ve been struggling, defensively, and today was a good day to put it all together.
“If we can build on the positive defense and the positive at-bats and the positive pitching, we’ll be in good shape.”
Gabe Chavez delivered the big hit for the Lancers, busting up a pitchers’ duel with a two-run double in the fifth inning.
Kyle Emerson went 3 for 4 with an RBI and Joe Souza and Lucas Garcia each collected doubles for East Union, which tagged Sierra ace Leo Soto for seven hits.
The game ball, though, belonged to the Lancers’ 5-foot-7, 185-pound bull.
Gonzales says he was given the nickname by first baseman Joe Bothelio, and on Wednesday, few were willing to step in the ring with the hard-throwing right-hander.
“Gonzalez pitched a heckuva game. He controlled the outer half of the plate and we didn’t adjust,” Sierra coach Jack Thomson said. “We always tell our guys that against a good pitcher the best pitch you’re going to get is a fastball on the outer half and we continued to take fastballs on the outer half.
“He did a great job. Tip your cap to him. He was the difference in the game.”
Gonzales’ confidence swelled as the rivalry unfolded.
After a shaky first inning, he recorded nine consecutive outs, including four via the strikeout.
He struck out two more in the fourth inning, punctuating the last with a show of emotion. Gonzales punched his glove as he made his way toward the dugout, growling as he crossed over the base line.
“The first inning was a little rough. I came out and I was off my game, but after that I settled down,” Gonzales said. “Toward the third and fourth inning, when we got that clutch hit by Gabe Chavez, I knew I had to carry this team all the way in.”
Still, Sierra had its chances. The Timberwolves stranded five baserunners, including two in scoring position, and committed three errors in the infield.
Thomson hopes the loss serves as a wake-up call. If his team is going to reach the mountaintop, they’re going to have to avoid the mistakes and stumbles that haunted them on Wednesday.
“We’ve got to be better offensively if we want to get to where we want to go. Hopefully, it jolts us a little bit. We’re a different than most teams,” Thomson said. “Manteca last year had (Jacob) Corn and (Lucas) Vaughn. They struck out 12 batters a game. We won’t do that, We’re lucky if we strike out three or four guys a game.
“We have to show up to play every game. We have to play clean every game. Today, we didn’t play really clean. So hopefully it gets us to understand a little better that we have to play well to win.”
Anthony Arredondo had Sierra’s only hit, a single up the middle.
East Union drew first blood in the fourth inning when Emerson singled and eventually scored on Bothelio’s sacrifice fly.
Garcia (error) and Souza (double) reached to begin the fifth, setting the stage for Chavez’ two-run double to the left field fence.
Emerson made it 4-0 one batter later with a single that took a late hop over the shortstop’s shoulder.
“I feel like this game right here can give us the big push we need,” said Gonzales, who got a late start to his junior season. He joined the team at the start of the VOL play.
“He was our guy last year as sophomore and he was going to be our guy this year, but we didn’t have him early,” Triglia said. “He did a fantastic job against Oakdale and then struggled a little bit against Kimball, but today was definitely where we expected him to be.”
Triglia believes Gonzales’ return gives East Union a formidable 1-2 punch with Garcia, who will likely toe the bump on Friday. Up until Wednesday, Garcia was the only East Union pitcher with a victory.
“This is huge for my confidence,” Gonzales said. “I just have to be out there and be a bulldog for my team.”