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Timberwolves clinch playoff berth behind three-homer effort
Gerald Parente celebrates his three-run homer in the fifth inning with Sierra teammates Monday. The Timberwolves slugged three homers and beat visiting Manteca, 6-4. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO

They’re baaaaaaack.

Sierra’s baseball team qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs for the first time in eight years after its 6-4 victory over visiting Manteca Monday. All of Sierra’s runs were scored on three homers, the first of which were swatted by winning pitcher Marc Wilson.

Since last advancing in 2005, the Timberwolves (9-4 Valley Oak League, 16-8-1 overall) have been burned by various tiebreaking scenarios that knocked them out of contention.

With one game remaining they have tiebreaking advantages over Manteca, Kimball and East Union — other clubs also vying for the VOL’s final two of three playoff berths coming into the week. Oakdale (10-2, 17-8), which closes with Lathrop today and Wednesday, clinched the league championship.

“It’s always fun when you can play for something at the end of the season,” Sierra coach Jack Thomson said. “This is a resilient group of kids and they’ve battled all season. I don’t know how many all-league players I have, but they’ve done a great job.”

Manteca (9-4, 15-7) still has destiny in its own hands. Win the rematch today at home, and the Buffaloes are in. Lose, and they’re crossing their fingers for an East Union win over Kimball. Manteca was in sole possession of first place just three weeks ago but has dropped four of its last five.

“I already forgot about this game,” Manteca coach Gene Ballardo said. “It’s all about tomorrow.”

Wilson pitched 4 2/3 innings for Sierra and did well to work himself out of jams, particularly in the first. Manteca’s Lucas Vaughn, who took the loss from the mound, led off with a single and the Buffaloes later loaded the bases when Jake Corn was intentionally walked. Wilson came away unscathed with his only two strikeouts of the game.

“It comes down to the first inning,” Ballardo said. “Basically, we just didn’t execute.”

Wilson did it with the bat in the fourth, sending a leadoff shot over the right-center field fence. Ian Rodriguez then clubbed a two-run homer in the same inning as Sierra took a 3-0 lead.

“It was a good fastball (to hit), and I was just trying to stay back and go (opposite field),” Wilson said. “And the guys who hit the home runs after me did the same thing and went oppo.”

Gerald Parente applied the backbreaker — a two-out, three-run clout in the bottom of the fifth. Manteca had closed the deficit to one in the top half, with Vaughn scoring on a fielder’s choice and Corn driving in Dominick Pisano with a single to left.

“Gerald’s home run was huge,” Thomson said. “You can sense a little bit of a momentum change, and when he hit the three-run homer it kind of went back in our favor.”

Hunter Peterson threw 1 1/3 innings in relief for sierra, and Ryan Vasquez closed it out after entering the seventh with two base runners on and no out. Ezequiel Diaz drew a leadoff walk and was followed by Pisano’s double down the first-base line. Buddy Reeder drove in both with a single up the middle and finished with three RBIs, but he was caught stealing second for the first out. Vasquez walked Corn and ended it with a grounder and a strikeout.