Jack Thomson sent his Sierra baseball team onto the field for its Valley Oak League opener with three objectives.
Two, play hard.
Three, catch the ball.
For good measure, the longtime skipper ducked back into his team huddle to re-emphasize his orders.
Something got lost in translation.
The Timberwolves accomplished two of three and got a superb outing from starter Marc Wilson, only to see its strength — catching the ball — cost it a victory against one of the Sac-Joaquin Section’s top arms.
Sierra (0-1 VOL, 4-4-1 overall) turned the final innings of this Valley Oak League debut into a circus.
The Timberwolves committed three errors in the sixth and seventh that led to all six of the Wildcats’ runs, giving ace Ryan Stevenson all the support he would need.
And he wouldn’t need much, as Sonora (1-0, 8-3) won for the eighth time in 11 games.
Stevenson, the VOL’s returning strikeout king, was on his “A” game. He fanned 12 batters in a complete-game three-hitter, mixing an electric fastball with looping curve.
More times than not, the Timberwolves were left flailing, trailing and chasing his pitches.
“That’s who we are right now,” Sonora coach Scott Johnson said. “He’s so good that we play defense on our heels.”
Sierra didn’t come in blind. Thomson and his staff were well aware of the tall order the tony left-hander presented.
Stevenson carried the Wildcats to the brink of a Sac-Joaquin Section championship last year and was named the Mother Lode’s top player by the Union Democrat.
“He’s good,” Thomson said. “But everyone in our league has a guy like that. Everybody has a horse. For us to win on Tuesdays we need to play a perfect game.
“For five innings, I thought we did that. The last two ... “
Sierra, normally sure-handed and efficient in the field, was a hot mess, spoiling Wilson’s gem.
The 6-foot-2 senior matched Stevenson pitch for pitch.
Wilson no-hit Sonora through the first four innings and finished with seven strikeouts in six-plus innings, including four of the game’s first six outs.
“Marc threw strikes. I thought he pitched well enough to win,” Thomson said. “Against a guy like Stevenson, our best chance to win is a 1-0 or 2-1 game. ... I wish we would have done a better job of finishing the game.”
For five innings, it looked like Thomson would get that kind of performance from his club.
The Timberwolves took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Jake Pruitt launched a double to the wall in right field. He’d score one batter later on a throwing error.
The game stayed that way into the sixth. Then, like the weather, things changed rapidly.
The Wildcats scored three times despite hitting one ball out of the infield. Sonora scored on an error, fielder’s choice and a stolen base. Sierra had two errors in the inning.
Wilson was pulled in the seventh after relinquishing a single and a walk. The Wildcats would find immediate success against reliever Ryan Vasquez, scoring on a bases-loaded walk.
A fielder’s choice and dropped fly ball in right field pushed Sonora’s lead to 6-1.
“We’ve done a great job of catching the ball all year,” Thomson said. “Our biggest positive has been playing catch. ... Defense has not been the problem.”
Pruitt was 2 for 3 with two doubles. Ian Rodriguez also singled for the T’Wolves, who complete their home and home with Sonora on Thursday.