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TWolves come up a win short of section final
Sierras Jake Souza (22) gets the out on Vista del Lagos Ryan Kuzinich (9) and makes the throw to first base Wednesday during the Timberwolves 2-0 loss during the winner-take-all Game 3 of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinal series at Tony Zupo Field. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

LODI – As soon as Andrew Schantz crushed a two-run homer in the top of the fourth inning Wednesday during the third and deciding game of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV best-of-three semifinal series, Vista del Lago’s supporters reacted as if Schantz just hit a walk-off bomb.

The celebration turned out to be justified.

Schantz’s two-run rocket over the left wall at Tony Zupo Field propelled Vista del Lago into Monday’s winner-take-all section final and ended Sierra’s season after a 2-0 defeat.

The Timberwolves had nothing to hang their heads about, either, as they knocked off the Eagles (26-5) in Wednesday’s first game that forced the rubber match behind a solid effort from ace Leo Soto, 6-1. Vista del Lago won the series opener on Saturday 6-3.

Sierra handed the ball to junior Jakob Gallagher in the nightcap.

Gallagher (two runs, three hits) went five innings, walked three and tossed three strikeouts. Sierra brought in Cal State East Bay-bound senior Dakota Conners to close out the sixth and seventh inning.

“(Gallagher) did a great job and gave us a chance to win,” Thomson said. “He gave up two runs on one bad pitch he left a little high. But he pitched well enough in the situation that he was in.”

The situation for Sierra (22-6) was win or go home.

The Timberwolves’ defense stepped up and made some plays, like in the top of the first. Sierra’s Mateo Hernandez made a championship-caliber play and robbed Nick Schumacher of Vista with a leaping catch into the right-field wall to help Gallagher escape the inning unscathed.

“There were quite a few balls at the warning track that we caught,” Thomson added. “Sometimes you lose and sometime you get beat. Tonight we just got beat.”

Gallagher gave up a hit in each of the first two innings and then retired the side in the third. In the bottom of four, Schantz – Vista del Lago’s ace – hit the go-ahead shot.

Gallagher tossed his third strikeout to get out of the top of five with runners on second and third. He started missing the zone late in the inning and walked a batter and hit a batter with a pitch. Both of the Vista del Lago runners advanced second and third on a wild pitch, but Gallagher gathered himself and sat down Kaim to end the inning.

In the top of the sixth, Conners closed out the contest with two strikeouts.

In the bottom half of the frame, Sierra senior Jake Pruitt got on with a two-out single up the middle. Kyle Oden got on base for the first time and put two on with two out by drawing a rare walk from the Eagles’ ace. Tyler Moss popped out down the first base line to end the inning.

Sierra’s Pruitt, Conners and Hernandez tallied each of Schantz’s three hits. He threw a complete-game shutout and walked two with six strikeouts.

“He is our ace,” Vista del Lago head coach Scott Seffens said of Schantz. “I think (Sierra) is a great team, Andrew is just the real deal.”

In the first game of the night and Sierra facing elimination, it handed the ball to its undefeated ace Soto, who pitched solid and put the T’Wolves in position move onto the school’s first-ever section final.

Soto gave up seven hits, a run and a walk. He also retired the side four times.

The Eagles scored their only run in the fourth with Sierra already up 6-0. Pruitt went 2 for 4 and had an RBI double in the first to score Conners. Moss singled to score Pruitt to make it 2-0.

The T’Wolves tacked on their last four in the bottom of the third.

Oden had a two-RBI single and Ian Rodriguez had an RBI single that scored Pruitt to make it 5-0. Jake Souza tallied a sacrifice-fly that scored Oden for Sierra’s sixth run.

“We thought we could contend for a championship and we knew we were a playoff team,” Thomson concluded. “We have nothing to hang our heads (about). There’s some pretty good baseball in (Division IV). I’m rooting for the home team (Monday).”

Vista del Lago will advance to Monday’s 6 p.m. section championship against Manteca High at Zupo Field. Both squads will be aiming at its school’s first ever blue banner.