The Turlock High baseball team did something that they have failed to do in three of the past four seasons—beat St. Mary’s in the playoffs—and on Monday history was made for the Bulldogs in the quarterfinal round of the Division I South CIF Sac-Joaquin bracket.
After a slow beginning, the ‘Dogs’ were able to keep their composure, which paid off with a seven-run fifth inning resurgence that was capped off with Brian Mendez tossing up four innings to pick up the 13-8 win as he allowed only three runs in that span.
The Rams started off strong, as they went up 8-3 heading into the bottom half of the fourth, but they perhaps got too comfortable as the ‘Dogs responded with 10 unanswered runs to close out the game and finally counter their playoff rivals who have had the Bulldogs number over the last four years.
“They have had the best of us, but I told my team on Friday that this year is our turn,” said Turlock head coach Mark de la Motte with a smile and gentle laugh. “We have been run out by St. Mary’s before, but we go further back with Tokay in the playoffs, we have really had some battles with those guys.”
“We are definitely confident right now. We have been riding our offense all year and our pitching as well, and it showed up tonight in later innings,” said Mendez. “The coaches told me to throw strikes and they will get themselves out and we will get through this game and it’s all I did.”
The win nudged Turlock (23-5) into the winners’ circle in the D-I South playoffs bracket as they will face Tokay tonight in a semifinal game.
Monday's game did not start out very fun for the Bulldogs. Starter Marcus Lopez was wild, allowing seven runs in three innings along with six walks, before being subbed out for Mendez.
Mendez restored order, with Turlock trailing by five runs going into the bottom of the fourth. The Bulldogs did manage to cut the lead to 8-5 by the end of the inning.
Then in the fifth, the ‘Dogs found themselves facing a familiar foe, a left-handed pitcher in St. Mary’s Eric Madrid, who allowed a run in the fourth.
“I am a left-hander so when I throw for batting practice they crack it. Anytime there is a lefty I tell them to think it is me,” de la Motte said.
Bubba Moreno got on base after a lengthy at-bat on a full count as he hit a double to put himself in scoring position. Brett Cumberland’s RBI single brought in Moreno and then the offense started to roll.
With an 8-6 score, Alex Pallios legged out a bunt single on what was designed as a squeeze to score Mendez, followed by a Jon Temple sacrifice fly which tied the game at eight apiece.
Then with two outs, Pallios drove in the score to give the go-ahead run just before Cody Cornell crushed a deep three-run homerun over the left field brick wall to take a comfortable four run lead heading into the final two innings.
“If you saw us earlier in the year we could not score runs except maybe one, but now we have our confidence and our younger guys really came up and they are all playing great right now,” de la Motte said. “They had to throw fast balls and our guys got all over it and they got their confidence going and made anything happen — very proud of our guys.”
The Bulldogs had everything working for them, pitching, defense and offense, after not committing any errors in Monday’s game and tallying double digits in hits and runs scored.
The depth of the ‘Dogs from the mound also proves to be helpful in a double-elimination format where fresh arms can be substituted often.
“We have 10 pitchers. We know that they won’t be top recruits anywhere but they all throw strikes,” de la Motte said. “You get into this tournament, win or lose, you need to have these arms and we used a lot of St. Mary’s bullpen and banged them up pretty good; I was happy to see that obviously.”
The Bulldogs have reached the section finals three times (1987, 1990, 1997) and are waiting to bring home their first title under this format.
“It was always a road to the section finals. We'll go through Tokay and it will be fun to play them. We will have to bring our offense again,” de la Motte added.
The game against Tokay will be at 7 p.m. today at the University of Pacific baseball field in Stockton.
“The coaches just told us that we have a history with Tokay but we are pretty confident right now. We are staying in the winner’s bracket, which we didn’t do last year and were just going to ride our confidence,” Mendez added.