Ronaldo Tijero charged the dribbling baseball, bare-handing it halfway up the third-base line before releasing a rocket across the diamond.
The play was close, but the call was resounding.
The Manteca High baseball team sprinted off the field with confidence — and a three-run lead penciled in the scorebook.
Or so it seemed.
The umpire overruled the crucial fourth inning call, breathing new life into the Central Catholic attack. The Raiders took full advantage of the second chance, scoring seven unanswered in a 7-4 victory.
Eagan Fierra had a two-run single to tie the game 4-4 in the fourth, and Ryan Dami broke the game open with a two-run double in the sixth as the Raiders avoided a sweep against the reigning Valley Oak League and Sac-Joaquin Section Division III champions.
The loss drops Manteca (4-4 VOL, 9-9) into a tie with Central Catholic (4-4, 11-9) for third, three games back of co-leaders Sierra (7-1) and Oakdale (7-1), both of whom won decisively on Friday.
“Give them credit. They fought back and we didn’t have an answer for them after they tied it up and eventually took the lead,” Manteca skipper Neil MacDannald said. “Obviously, it would have been nice to put more pressure on them and scratch a few more across, but they’re a good team and this is a good league.”
Brad Nightengale outdueled Buffalo starter Tyler Graves-Kelso. Nightengale recovered from a shaky second inning and retired eight straight at one point to earn the win.
Neither pitcher was sharp in this pivotal battle between playoff hopefuls.
Graves-Kelso was chased with one out in the sixth inning after yielding six hits, six walks and plunking two batters. He was charged with all seven runs.
MacDannald pulled Graves-Kelso after he gave up the go-ahead RBI single to John Weatherred. Two batters later, Dami flipped his double into the gap.
“He competes up there and we expect him to win his battles,” MacDannald said of Graves-Kelso. “His pitch count was still under control, so we stuck with him.”
The Buffaloes surged into the lead with a four-run second inning. Jake Menasco (2 for 4) and Tijero (sacrifice fly) drove in runs, but the rally was carried by Nightengale.
With the bases loaded, the Raiders’ starter issued walks to Kyle Rachels and Sam Rohovit, driving home Greg Jones and A.J. Kieffaber (1 for 3).
Jones sparked the rally with a lead-off double into the the right-center field gap.
Nightengale would settle into a groove, though, and the Buffaloes would never threaten again. The hard-throwing right-hander stranded five, working around four hits and four walks.
“He bowed up and competed,” MacDannald said of Nightengale. “Our approach at the plate probably could have been a little better through that stretch.”
With six games left and the meat of their schedule behind them, MacDannald hasn’t lost hope that the Buffaloes can repeat in the VOL.
He believes these trials are rounding his young program into shape.
“It sets us up well for the playoffs, because we know we’ll have faced several teams in our league that are playoff-caliber teams,” he added. “... We played Central, which will always test your mettle, and we split. Are we happy with the split? Absolutely not. We expect to win every game.
“The deal is: We feel like we’re getting better and we’ll continue to keep the faith that it will pay off.”