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Vaughns no-hitter buoys Buffs title-clinching win
BASE--Manteca-Sierra pic 4
Sierra High right fielder Leo Soto is unable to grab the deep pop fly hit by Mantecas Lucas Vaughn in the top of the fourth inning. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin

Manteca High’s Lucas Vaughn was three outs away from pitching a perfect game in Tuesday’s Valley Oak League finale at Sierra.

He and the Buffaloes settled for a no-hitter.

And the outright claim to the VOL crown. Their 4-0 win avenged Monday’s heartbreaking loss and ended a title drought that spanned three decades.

“To have the chance to win this game for my team alone was an honor,” Vaughn said. “I just wanted to pitch my butt off for them.”

 The 6-foot-1 right-handed senior needed only 74 pitches to complete the game. He struck out seven and faced one batter over the minimum. Vaughn was perfect heading into the bottom of the seventh when leadoff hitter Ryan Vasquez reached on an infield error to break it up. After Jake Souza reached on a fielder’s choice, Vaughn tallied the last of his strikeouts and induced a pop fly to left fielder Joe Menzel to start the celebration.

“Vaughn pitched a heck of a game,” Sierra coach Jack Thomson said. “That’s pretty much where it starts and end. Manteca is good, obviously. You don’t win 21 games and not be very good, but Vaughn was the difference today.

“He threw three pitches for strikes and with a lot of confidence. He can throw the breaking ball on fastball counts. He was nails. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to a team that did a better job that day.”

Manteca’s last VOL championship was earned in 1985. Thomson, in fact, was the Buffaloes’ head coach at the time.

“None of our players were born yet,” Manteca coach Neil MacDannald said. “One of our (assistant) coaches wasn’t born yet and I was probably still a toddler.”

The Buffaloes (13-1 VOL, 21-3 overall) had the look of a mature ballclub Tuesday, just one day after a 4-3 setback riddled by rare defensive mistakes. This time it was Sierra that struggled to make the plays behind pitcher Kyle Oden, who gave up three unearned runs in six innings.

Manteca was held to five hits but walked six times while finding nonconventional ways to scratch runs across. Its first two runs were plated in the third with the bases loaded and one out. Menzel flew out in foul territory on the first-base side, as Sierra’s Souza ranged from his second-base position to make a nice grab near the fence.

The Buffaloes on the base paths were ready to strike.

Buddy Reeder tagged up from third and scored easily. Vaughn was on his way to third when an errant throw got past Sierra’s Ian Rodriguez, allowing the Buffaloes to double their lead on the same play.

“We hit the ball loud early in the game, had some guys on base but couldn’t scratch across any runs,” MacDannald said. “Sure enough it takes a foul ball.

“Every day in practice we don’t just have guys standing around, we run bases. It’s automatic for them — get back to the bag to see if we can tag. They both did it without hesitation real heads-up.”

Menzel later drilled a double to score Ezequiel Diaz, who reached on a two-out error in the sixth. Manteca tacked on its final run an inning later when Vaughn drew a bases-loaded walk.

“The sting from a loss, especially one like (Monday’s), it’s tough to bounce back from,” MacDannald said. “It goes to show you what this team is made of. Twenty four hours later they were able to put that behind them and focus all game long in all three facets of the game.”

Both teams are now shifting their focus on the upcoming Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs, which begins next Monday with a play-in game between VOL No. 3 seed Oakdale and the third-place team out of the Western Athletic Conference.

On Wednesday, May 14, Manteca takes on a familiar foe in El Dorado (21-6) of the Sierra Valley Conference. It will mark the fourth meeting in five years between the two clubs. Sierra (12-2, 20-4) is pitted against the WAC runner-up.

“Our kids have had a good year so far,” Thomson said. “To go through the Valley Oak League 12-2, that’s pretty good. They have a lot to be proud of.”