Jacob Souza’s selfless act led to a Valley Oak League championship for Sierra’s baseball team and the Most Valuable Player award.
The third-year varsity senior played out of position all season but was still able to perform at an elite level. A converted catcher, Souza hit .417 in league and held a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. He made the all-VOL second team as a second baseman last year and was the likely heir apparent to Gold Glove shortstop Dakota Conners, but there was an even bigger need behind the plate with Jake Pruitt also graduating.
“He would have been our best infielder this year,” Sierra coach Jack Thomson said. “We talked to Jake at the end of the season and said, ‘You can compete for a job at shortstop or pitch.’ He’s the one who actually said, ‘Coach, I need to catch next year.’
“He sacrificed a bit of what he likes to do best. He was very selfless and put the team ahead of himself. You can look at the numbers and everything, but what he did there speaks volumes of the character he has.”
The numbers speak for themselves. He raked for a .391 batting average overall, legged out four triples, tied for the team lead in runs (22) and was second in RBIs (17).
“He did a lot of different things for us offensively,” Thomson said. “He can run, play the short game and he can hit. He’ll fit in fine some place next year.”
His defensive numbers were even more impressive, especially considering the unfamiliar view of the field from the backstop position. In 23 games he had just two errors and five passed balls and threw out 68.4 percent of base stealers (6 of 13). Souza caught three runners in a league game against Kimball.
“He did an amazing job behind the plate,” Thomson said. “It helped that we had left-handers (pitching), which tends to shut down the running game in high school, but when people did run he threw out a high percentage of them. He also had seven back picks, which are a huge momentum changer.”
Souza’s move to catcher allowed juniors Nick Oseguera and Tanner Peterson to shore up the middle of the infield. Oseguera (.405 average in league) is one of four Sierra players to make the all-league first team, while Peterson earned a spot on the second team.
Pitcher Leo Soto (5-1, 2.53 ERA), fourth-year starting outfielder Ryan Vasquez (.333 average) and pitcher/outfielder Jakob Gallagher (4-0, 0.78 ERA; .378 average) are also on the first team for the Timberwolves (12-2 VOL, 19-7-1 overall), who claimed their first league title since 2001.
“We had some people that could play the infield, and Jake made us stronger behind the plate,” Thomson said. “I don’t think we would have accomplished what we did without that.”
Thomson was named Coach of the Year, and Oakdale’s Wade Branch is Offensive Player of the Year.
Second-place Oakdale (11-3, 16-10) has three players on the all-league first team, while Central Catholic (9-5, 16-11), Manteca (9-5, 15-11) and East Union (6-8, 7-17) have two each.
Other Manteca-area standouts selected to the first team are: first baseman Greg Jones (.396, 22 RBIs) and fourth-year starting center fielder Dominic Pisano (.306) of Manteca; pitcher Marco Gonzales (4-1, 1.99) and infielder Lucas Garcia (.405) of East Union; Keenan Donatelli (.488) of Lathrop and sophomore C.J. Drain (.325) of Weston Ranch.
Manteca infielder Ronaldo Tijero, East Union outfielder Gabe Chavez and Weston Ranch outfielder Josh Dilg join Peterson on the second team.