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Streaky Indians working out kinks
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RIPON — In seven innings against a defending Sac-Joaquin Section champion, Ripon coach Jon Manrique bore witness to the very best and worst of his baseball team.

The streaky Indians raced out to a 3-0 lead on Manteca High, but issued 10 free bases and stranded six runners in a 4-3 loss on Monday afternoon.Ripon limped back into Trans-Valley League play on Tuesday carrying the sins of a four-game losing skid on their shoulders. The Indians exorcised those demons with perhaps their most complete effort since spring break.

Nick Price and Zach Horwood belted home runs, three others collected doubles and Jack Mayer was effective over five innings in an 8-3 victory over Hilmar.

Manrique hopes the win sets the tone for the Indians’ final push.

“These next four or five games are going to determine the playoffs for us,” Manrique said.

If Ripon is going to make a run at the postseason and beyond, it will have to become what it hasn’t been through the first 20 games — consistent in all facets of the game.

The Indians have had winning streaks of three, three and five games. And along with their latest swoon, the Indians has also lost two in a row – a series sweep at the hands of Escalon on March 24 and 26.

Ripon is tied with Escalon in the TVL standings at 7-4, three games back of Hughson (10-1). Bitter rivals for decades, the Indians and Cougars meet for the final time next Tuesday at Ripon High.

The top-3 teams advance to the Division V playoffs.

The Indians will host three of their final four TVL games: Riverbank on Thursday, Escalon and Hughson in their season finale on May 5. Ripon travels to Modesto Christian for its penultimate league game on April 30.

Manrique used Monday’s tilt with the Buffaloes, a mythical state champion in 2014, as an audition of sorts.He wanted to give shut-down reliever C.J. Little a chance to start, while working in other back-inning options Robert Hutto, Jacob Duxbury and Trent Murphy.Manrique also used the matchup against a Division-III pitching staff to evaluate a suddenly punchless lineup.

“This gave us a chance to work out the last couple of kinks,” he said of scheduling a non-league opponent so late in the season.“Who’s going to step up? Who’s going to lead our bullpen? What is our 1-2-3 (in the batting order)? It allowed us to work in pitchers who haven’t got to pitch regularly.”

The results left Manrique, well, unsettled.

Little was lifted in the third after issuing his fourth walk. One batter later, Tyler Graves-Kelso roped an RBI single.

The Indians’ bullpen didn’t fare much better. Four pitchers combined to walk eight batters and plunk two more.The free passes have haunted the Indians.

“It’s very concerning. It’s been an issue that’s been reoccurring the last couple of games and that’s what is leading to our losses,” Manrique said. “Today, we played well in the field — no errors, pretty clean baseball — but you can’t give a team 10 free bases.“... I talked to the boys the other day and still we weren’t able to step up and deliver. It comes down to making the team earn it. If you’re going to give up free bases and you’re going to allow guys to reach first and put themselves in a better position to put some runs up without actually having to work at the plate, you’re in some trouble.”

There was some good to come from the loss.Central Catholic-transfer Matt Dedonatis led off the Manteca game with a single and motored home on a throwing error at second base. He also stole his third base.

The sophomore is hitting close to .400 since becoming eligible for play. He had to sit out the first 30 days of the season because of the section’s transfer rule.

“We’ve been waiting for him,” Manrique said.

Luke Robison was 3 for 3 against the Buffaloes, and captain Jarrod Andrews reached base three times (two walks, single).

“My team, right now, is looking for a spark,” Manrique said after the Manteca loss. “This is four straight losses for us. Getting those first two runs (in the first inning) was big. However, we couldn’t get our fire started later on.”