Jacob Toste called for a timeout to confer with East Union coach Kris Hensley before settling into the batter’s box in the top of the sixth inning Tuesday at rival Manteca.
The Lancers trailed by a run, and Ace Avelar had just reached base with a leadoff walk. Considering the situation and who was on the pitcher’s mound, Dallas Baptist signee Zach Todd, Toste was uncertain what his approach should be.
“I was thinking, ‘Should I bunt him over?’” he said. “I didn’t know what to do, so I went up to coach and said, ‘What do I do right here, coach?’ And he said, ‘Just do you and hit a bomb.’
“So, I go up to the plate, I see my pitch, down and low, and I just put a good swing on it.”
That good swing sent the ball flying over the right-field fence and catapulted East Union to the lead. The Lancers added insurance runs in the seventh, coming away with a 5-2 win that guarantees at least a split in one of many important Valley Oak League series.
Toste now has four home runs in 11 games, so giving the left-handed slugger the green light was a no-brainer.
“I was actually shocked that he came over,” Hensley said. “Toste is such a good bunter, but at that point in the game he needed to let it fly. He had to be the hitter that he has been all year. I said, ‘No, I want you to go hit a home run,’ and obviously he did.
“It made me look like I know what I was talking about.”
Todd struck out struck out 12 batters for a second straight start and scattered just four hits over 6 2/3 innings, though two of them led to four runs. The strapping 6-foot-3 righty also walked three and hit one. Last season, he pitched a no-hitter against East Union but was a hard-luck loser. He twirled his second career no-no in the Buffaloes’ VOL opener at Weston Ranch last week.
“Their pitcher is such a beast, and I felt like our kids today battled,” Hensley said. “They had a good game plan at the plate, they executed their game plan and got themselves in good hitting counts.”
East Union (2-1 VOL, 6-6 overall) deployed the righty-lefty combo of Evan Jeffery and Zach Grabowski. Jeffery shined in his five-inning start, striking out seven while giving up six hits and hitting two batters. Grabowski, a sophomore southpaw, threw 24 pitches and secured the two-inning save.
Although the Lancers struggled defensively behind their pitchers, committing three errors, they ended the game with a 6-4-3 double play turned by second baseman Noah Calmes.
Manteca (2-1, 6-7) missed a big opportunity in the first inning when it had two runners in scoring position with one out. Alex Murrietta was later hit by a pitch two load the bases with two outs, but Jeffery was able to get out of the jam with a strikeout.
The Buffaloes also left two runners in scoring position in the fourth inning after Dylan DePrater drove in Todd with a single to tie it at 1-1. Jeffery was able to minimize the damage with two more clutch strikeouts.
“That has been something we’ve been struggling with all year,” Manteca coach Mark Ruiz said. “Just getting that one hit could have gotten momentum our way.”
Manteca leadoff hitter Rex Watson went 3 for 3 and was Landan Chamberlain’s groundout to shortstop.
John Perazzo accounted for two of East Union’s two hits. The fourth knock helped set up East Union’s pitching for the rematch Thursday at Agostini Field.
In the seventh, pinch-hitter Brandon Pine looped a two-run single to center field, giving the Lancers some breathing room.
“That was really big, because I was trying to decide if I wanted to stick with Grabowski or go to Dylan Lee,” Hensley said. “By Pine getting me those insurance runs, that let me save Dylan for Thursday. I’ll be able to have Dylan and Grabowski back-to-back. Anytime you can save pitching, especially in the VOL, that’s huge.”