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Corn shined brightest following rare struggles
All area baseball
Oregon-bound Jacob Corn is a two-time All-Area MVP who led Manteca High to its first section championship for baseball this past spring. - photo by Photo by WAYNE THALLANDER

Jacob Corn doesn’t shy away from discussing the few missteps in his otherwise spectacular senior season for Manteca High’s baseball team.

They were, he said, necessary parts of the process that propelled himself and his team to greatness. And that may be what impresses his head coach more than anything else. The second-year Manteca Bulletin All-Area Baseball MVP led the Buffaloes to their first Valley Oak League title in almost 30 years and first-ever Sac-Joaquin Section crown and did so carrying the weight of expectations of a Pac-12 pitching prospect.

Corn led the area with 103 strikeouts in 68 1/3 innings. He sported a 1.13 ERA and an 8-2 record, held opposing batters to a .165 average and issued only nine walks for the second straight year. His strikeout total ranks him second in the section and 28th in the state, according to MaxPreps.

From the plate, he hit .408 with a .531 on-base percentage while driving in 18 runs. Corn also split time at first base and held a .953 fielding percentage.

“You talk about a guy who has all the pressure in the world on him, (and) everyone was shooting to beat him,” Manteca coach Neil MacDannald said. “As his coach I got to see him prepare week in and week out, game in and game out for whatever it was we asked him to do. The way he handled himself was phenomenal given the pressure and expectations on him.

“Kids these days take a path of least resistance. He’s not one of those kids.”

Corn always found ways to respond well coming off poor performances. He gave up four runs in an 11-1 nonleague loss to Division I power Turlock. A week later, he struck out nine in a five-inning perfect game against Weston Ranch in Manteca’s VOL opener. Corn went 26 innings without giving up a run to start league.

“We got beat pretty good by one of the better teams in the Valley in Turlock,” MacDannald said. “But there was a purpose in us having teams like that in our nonleague schedule.”

In the middle of his scoreless streak was one of Manteca’s crowning achievements for the season: A scoreless sweep of seven-time defending VOL champion Oakdale, which had also claimed the last three SJS Division IV pennants.

The Oregon-bound Corn outdueled USC signee Bryce Dydra in a 3-0 win in Oakdale. Corn fanned nine and walked three in his five-hit gem with several major league scouts present.

“That was probably the best game I threw all year,” Corn said. “I hadn’t beaten Oakdale and I definitely wanted to end that (drought).

“I had to prove that Oregon is better than USC,” Corn added with a chuckle.

The 6-foot-2 lefty finally surrendered a run in the first inning of Manteca’s 8-1 drubbing of Kimball, but he and the Buffaloes got the wake-up call they needed in his next start.

Intra-city rival Sierra visited Manteca to begin their two-game set that marked the end of the regular season. With Corn on his home mound, the Buffaloes had to like their chances of clinching the league championship outright on the front end of the series. Sierra escaped with a 4-3 win. The Timberwolves overcame 10 strikeouts from Corn and capitalized on errors that led to two unearned runs.

Manteca wasn’t sharp, and by his own admission, neither was Corn. Lucas Vaughn would steal the attention the next day with his no-hitter that helped the Buffaloes garner their first league title in 29 years.

“We needed that,” Corn said. “I felt like we definitely needed that one loss before playoffs. After that there was no stopping us.”

Corn was nearly untouchable in his first two postseason starts. In respective 6-0 and 9-0 shutouts of El Dorado and Cosumnes Oaks, he struck out 23 batters and surrendered only nine hits and a knock in 13 innings.

That set Manteca with up with a championship-round date with Vista del Lago. It was a nightmare start for Corn, but it ended with a dream finish for Alex Jorgensen, who capped the Buffaloes’ late-inning comeback rally with a walk-off single. Manteca prevailed 7-6, but not after Corn gave up the game’s first six runs (two unearned). Vaughn took over the mound and was shined in a rare relief role, shutting down Vista’s offense over the final 2 2/3 innings.

“I really didn’t have a problem with Luke coming in,” Corn said. “As long as I was still hitting I could still produce for my team.”

And produce he did. Despite his struggles from the mound, Corn was locked in at the batter’s box all game. He reached in all four of his plate appearances, finishing 3 for 3 with a key RBI during Manteca’s five-run outburst in the fifth inning.

Manteca was nine outs away losing another section championship game. Corn was one of two freshmen — the other being his longtime catcher Buddy Reeder — called up to the varsity team four years ago when the Buffaloes gave up nine runs in the sixth inning en route to a 14-4 defeat.

Corn and Reeder redeemed themselves on Memorial Day. Manteca’s 13 seniors won a section championship and graduated in a five-day span.

“We came so close our freshman year,” Corn said. “Had we lost again it would have felt like something was missing on graduation day.”

Corn graduated with a 1.24 career ERA, 22-5 record and 291 strikeouts in 181 1/3 innings.