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Baker’s all-around performance helps Turlock clinch critical game, series over Downey
Turlock baseball 1
Outfielder Mason Baker celebrates with his Turlock teammates after throwing out Downey’s Jaxon Rowland at home plate to secure the Bulldogs’ 3-2 win over the Knights on Friday afternoon in Modesto (ALEX MORALES/The Journal).

Downey’s Jaxon Rowland stood at second base representing the tying run as his team trailed 3-2 with two outs in the bottom of the seventh against Turlock on Friday afternoon. The senior was given the green light to round third base when teammate Aiden Larson poked a single to left field, but his speed was simply no match for the throw delivered by Mason Baker, which beat him to the plate by multiple steps to secure the Bulldog victory.

Baker repeatedly  yelled to the heavens “Don’t run on me!” as he was mobbed by teammates. They were emotions that he was holding in for more than two innings after he was pulled from his start after 4 ⅓ frames in which he gave up two runs on five hits and five walks.

“I had a little bit of a struggle pitching today, so it was good to make up for it,” Baker said. “That was the mindset pre-pitch. I was like, ‘Hey, if I get the ball, I need to make sure I hose him.’ And that's what I did. I got the ball, fielded it and threw him out.”

“Winning like that, it’s big for us and the confidence,” added shortstop Josh Ramirez, who had two hits and several dazzling defensive plays throughout the contest.

The Bulldogs never trailed Friday, though they had to fend off multiple Downey scoring threats.

In the second inning, the ‘Dogs broke a scoreless tie when senior Carter Crivelli singled home junior Angel Herrera. The next batter, junior Mateo Valencia, skied a fly ball to left field that was dropped, which scored Baker who reached earlier in the inning with a single. Their third run, which was ultimately the game’s difference, was an RBI single from senior Owen Miller that scored Crivelli. In the home half of the inning, the Knights scored on a passed ball and an RBI single by senior Colin Nilson.

Baker’s pitch count quickly rose thanks to his five walks and navigating the Knights lineup with runners on base in nearly each inning, but Downey was promptly shut down by reliever Andrew Sevilla, who gave up three hits and a walk en route to 2 ⅔ shutout frames.

The win marked the Bulldogs’ second in a row, as they first avenged Monday’s series-opening 5-3 loss to the Knights with a 4-0 victory on Wednesday at Mark de la Motte Field. In that game, starting pitcher Andrew “Bubba” Lujan tossed a complete game shutout in which he only surrendered four hits and two walks while punching out four. 

“It's always hard to go down in the first game of the series, but we know we can bounce back in the next game,” Lujan said. “I just kind of threw strikes… worked my slider to try to give my defense a chance to get us back even in the series.”

Tyler Castro began the Turlock scoring Wednesday with an RBI single that scored Miller in the first inning. A sac-fly by Crivelli scored Sevilla to make it 2-0 before they tagged on two more by way of Miller getting hit by a pitch and a walk earned by Castro, each with the bases loaded.

With the series win, the Bulldogs improved their overall record to 12-7 and claimed sole possession of first place in the Central California Athletic League with a 5-1 conference record with nine games to play. They begin a three game series on Monday when they travel back to Modesto to take on Enochs (9-10, 3-3). The next week will bring in a three-game set with the 5-13 Modesto Panthers, who are winless in CCAL play before engaging with a three-game series against crosstown rival Pitman to end the regular season.

“This was obviously a great series when you get down to it,” said Turlock head coach Mike Souza. “Downey plays well. They have a good team and good coaches like that… But it's good to see the boys bounce back and get a big W like that, especially back-to-back Ws.”

As for the Pride, they will enter next week on a high note, as they just completed a three game sweep of Modesto in which they outscored the Panthers by a combined 30-1 to improve their overall record to 10-8 and their CCAL record to 4-2. They will welcome the Knights for the first game of a three-game series on Monday, with both teams still very much in play for the coveted league title.