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Sierra improves postseason chances with win at Manteca
Sierra-Manteca baseball
Sierra’s Travis Boyd safe at second in front of Manteca’s Jace Quitasol. - photo by Dave Campbell

 Swept in its first series of the Valley Oak League season, Sierra has clawed its way back into contention for one of four Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berths.

The Timberwolves’ improved their chances Friday by beating Manteca 9-5 with a season-high 12 hits. They hold the head-to-head tiebreaking advantage over the Buffaloes (7-4 VOL, 17-5-1 overall) by taking two out of three games this week.

Next week, Sierra (6-6, 13-9) tangles with first-place Oakdale in its final series of the regular season. Manteca also has a tough matchup with second-place Central Catholic and still has a game to make up with East Union, which could have major implications for the T’wolves.

Sierra is elated to be in this position after dropping three straight to East Union to start league. Central Catholic capped its three-game sweep of EU on Friday, vaulting Sierra into the top four.

“For some teams, getting swept at all is a death sentence, because it’s hard to make up that much ground,” Sierra coach Travis Thomson said. “To have that to start the season, that’s tough. These guys stayed motivated to get better.”

Travis Boyd led the assault with two doubles and an RBI, finishing 3 for 4. Wyatt Bauer went 2 for 4 with three RBIs, and Jacob Morrow went 2 for 3 with a double, two runs and two RBIs.

“I think today, we were just really comfortable at the plate,” Boyd said. After (winning 4-3) Wednesday, we just wanted to get after it. Everyone was hitting the ball. We weren’t taking any fastballs. Our goal for today was to hit the ball, hit the ball, hit the ball.”

Sierra did all of its damage in the fourth and fifth innings, plating the first nine runs of the game. Druw Navarro highlighted the five-run fourth with a two-run double after working the count to 3-1.

“I felt pretty confident in my swing,” Navarro said. “I saw that that’s a very fastball-heavy team, and they throw fastball strikes. It was just my best stuff against his best stuff, and it ended up working out.”

The T’wolves scored the rest of their runs in the fifth, getting an RBI double from Morrow and a two-run single from Bauer.

Manteca had chances to land the first blows earlier. In the second, the Buffs loaded the bases with one out thanks to an infield error, a hit batter and a walk.

Sierra starter Collins Schluer escaped with two strikeouts.

Rex Watson later led off the third inning with a double but was left stranded at third.

“That was kind of our series with them, we just couldn’t get that one hit that we really needed to get us going,” Manteca coach Mark Ruiz said. “Definitely had confidence in the guys who were up there, and we had guys we wanted to have at the plate in those situations. Unfortunately, we didn’t get it done.”

Watson, who went 2 for 3 with two runs, lifted a two-RBI homer over the right-field fence to close Manteca in 9-5 in the sixth inning. Preston Smith (2 for 4, RBI) followed with a two-out double, but the Buffaloes were shut down the rest of the way.

Sierra-Manteca baseball
Sierra’s Collins Schluer pitched 3.1 shutout innings.

Navarro pitched the final 1 2/3 shutout innings for Sierra, striking out two. He was the last of four hurlers used by the Timberwolves. Schluer had a strong start but was ultimately relieved in the fourth inning because of soreness in his throwing arm. He fired six strikeouts over 3 1/3 innings, giving up just one hit and two walks.

“Collins Schluer battled,” Thomson said. “He has some health issues in the arm, but he has been working really hard to get it healthy. Even though it wasn’t his best stuff today, he still threw 3-4 shutout innings. If you’re getting that many swings and misses with the fastball, that thing is moving.

“Every Friday, he gives us a chance to win.”

Manteca also four pitchers. Sophomore starter Cameron Jimenez got knocked out of the game in the fourth inning.

“Cam did a good job the first three innings, but in the fourth inning he started getting behind on hitters and started to leave the ball up a little bit,” Ruiz said. “I think they only had two strikeouts, so they did a good job of putting the ball in play.”