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Sierra alone in 1st after completing sweep of Manteca
Zack DeRossett (40) and the rest of the Sierra baseball team welcomes Mateo Hernandez back to the dugout after he crushed a solo home run to start the bottom of the fourth inning against visiting rival Manteca on Wednesday. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

It was on this same field last season that the Manteca High baseball team celebrated one of its greatest moments.

A near-perfect game from since-graduated Lucas Vaughn anchored the Buffaloes’ Valley Oak League title-clinching victory at Sierra, which had just beaten them the day before to force the winner-take-all finale. Manteca took the momentum into the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs and captured the Division IV championship.

“Since last year we wanted to get revenge, definitely,” Sierra’s Mateo Hernandez said on Thursday.

The senior left fielder went 3 for 3 with two RBIs and a homer, and Jakob Gallagher struck out eight in his first start of the season as the Timberwolves put the finishing touches on their two-game sweep of Manteca, 7-4. They remain alone at first in the VOL with a 4-0 record and are 10-3-1 overall. Sierra gets East Union next week.

“It feels great just to get the sweep,” Hernandez said. “It’s a great confidence booster and hopefully we can carry it into next week.”

Gallagher is one of four late arrivals from the basketball season. The 6-foot-3 southpaw was mostly sharp in his second appearance on the pitcher’s mound. He carried a no-hitter into the fourth inning until Greg Jones broke it up with a single and fired 14 first-pitch strikes against the 19 batters he faced.

Gallagher gave up two runs (one earned) on three hits and issued three walks. Ryan Vasquez surrendered three hits and two runs over the final three innings in relief and earned the save.

“We don’t strike anybody out but it’s nice to have that guy who can make them swing and miss,” Sierra coach Jack Thomson said. “I thought it was good for his first time out but he may have ran out of gas a little bit.”

Gallagher was replaced with Sierra ahead 3-2. Hernandez gave the Timberwolves some breathing room in the bottom half with his leadoff blast.

“It wasn’t on purpose, it was an accident,” Hernandez said. “I was just trying to get a good hit and ended up being a great hit.”

Two batters later Steven Rios roped a double and was sent home on Tanner Peterson’s sacrifice fly. Rios drove in Sierra’s final run in the fifth on a fielder’s choice.

Gallagher also hit one out of the park, though his towering shot to right field in the bottom of the third was declared foul by the plate umpire.

Anthony Arredondo was 3 for 4 with two runs from the No. 9 spot in the order. The Timberwolves had leadoff batters reach in every inning, totaled 10 hits and were walked seven times but left 11 runners stranded. The tone was set in the opening frame when they failed to score after loading the bases with no outs.

“We squandered some opportunities early and had a chance to put them away,” Thomason said. “Our approach with runners in scoring position I don’t think was real good. I don’t think we had an attack mentality but it’s something we can work on.”

Manteca (3-3, 8-5) rapped three hits each in the fourth and sixth innings when they plated three of its runs but was otherwise quiet with the bats. Freshman Kyle Rachels and Mitch Balmut (two RBIs) both went 2 for 3, doing their damage from the bottom third of the lineup.

The Buffaloes had four 1-2-3 innings, but the greater concern for coach MacDannald is pitching.

“We’ve just had a problem with throwing strikes especially (on first pitches),” he said. “We’ve been in the charity business. Even when we weren’t walking people the other guys had count leverage so they were able to just bang away at us.”

The good news for the reigning champs is that it’s still early and there is enough parity in the league to possibly keep them in the hunt. They’ll take next week off from league action before taking on Central Catholic on April 15 and 17.

“One thing about these guys is they fight until the end,” MacDannald said. “It’s a testament to them. They don’t throw in the towel and that was evidenced (Wednesday) being down seven and then making it close.

“I have faith that we have a real quality team, we just have to start executing. We’ll regroup and fight like heck the rest of the way and see what happens.”