By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Hughson hops back into tie with Escalon atop TVL after sweeping Ripon
hughson bball
Hughson's Paul Wagner blasts a solo home run to deep left field in the first inning of the Huskies' 5-0 league victory against Ripon on Thursday. - photo by CANDY PADILLA /The Journal

Twenty-one days after dislocating the middle finger in his right hand in a 4-3 loss to Escalon, Hughson High junior Max Mankins returned to the mound Thursday afternoon to face Trans-Valley League foe Ripon. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound right-hander proved that he hadn’t missed a beat in his three weeks off, allowing just two hits and a walk over five shutout innings as the Huskies blanked the Indians 5-0 to cap off a two-game sweep and bring themselves back into a tie alongside Escalon atop the TVL standings with matching 7-1 records.


The Huskies, who are 18–2 overall and 7-1 in league competition, will begin a two-game series in Livingston (6-11, 3-5) on Tuesday at 4 p.m. while the Cougars (12-10, 7-1) will square off with Modesto Christian (9-14, 2-8) for two games next week. The Indians, now 13-7 overall and 6-2 in the TVL, will try to stay in the race during next week’s two-game set against Hilmar, which kicks off Tuesday in Ripon at 6 p.m.


Mankins (who Hughson head coach Charly Garza considers as one of the best pitchers in the district) throws a fastball, knuckle-curve, changeup and slider. Despite the limited action in recent weeks and some minor discomfort in his finger, Mankins relied heavily on his fastball and changeup to keep opposing hitters off balance on Thursday. 


“I definitely thought it felt good the whole day. It's been feeling pretty good,” Mankins said of his hurt finger. “It was my goal to be back in pitching this game. I rested for about a week or two, then started throwing again, got kind of ready to get back on the mound and then Friday, I threw through my first bullpen again and felt pretty good.”


After watching his bullpen sessions over the course of the past week or so, Garza was also confident that Mankins would be available to start on Thursday. Nevertheless, he wasn’t sure how long the junior would last.


“We told him, ‘Hey, as long as you're looking good, you're our guy.’ He's one of the best pitchers around. He did it again today,” Garza said. “I knew he’d be good to go, but I didn't know what to think because it's just been a while since he's been on the mound. But as soon as I saw that he had control, I thought, ‘Yeah, we're just going to see if he can go as long as we need him.’ I pulled him after the fifth just because it's been a while since he pitched. I didn't want to push things too much. We had (Paul) Wagner fresh, and it was going to be the third time through the lineup. But it wasn't anything for him. It's just arm care for the long haul.”


Senior captain Paul Wagner pitched a perfect sixth inning in relief of Mankins before sophomore Bryce McDaniel secured the save in the seventh.


“I knew that Max was going to go out there, give his best stuff, give his best outing. Today, it was five innings, which considering the major injury, that was very impressive,” Wagner said. “I didn't know how long this leash was going to be. I thought it'd be an inning or two, but it turned into five. You just love that.”


Nearly an hour and a half earlier, Wagner gave his team an early 1-0 lead when he blasted a solo home run to deep left field in the bottom half of the first inning off Ripon starter Joseph Brizuela. Junior Carlos Guizar added an insurance run in the third with an RBI double before Mankins made it 3-0 with a sac-fly. Senior Blaine Fusi added another sac-fly in the fifth to push the lead to 4-0. Guizar’s second RBI of the game came on a sixth inning groundout.


Wagner leads the Huskies with 28 hits (three home runs) and a .418 batting average. The home run was his first of two hits on the day. He explained that he was familiar with Brizuela’s pitch repertoire coming into the matchup.


“I knew that I was right on it. I just had to commit to the swing, commit to the process, keep it going,” Wagner said.  “I just knew that I'd have a good day today. I just felt that in my swing pregame.”


The senior’s day got even better, as just two hours after the final out was recorded, he announced his commitment to play baseball and further his education at Ohlone College in Fremont.


And while the vibe was celebratory Thursday, Wagner and Garza shared a similar message that they will back grinding in the days leading up to their next game against Livingston. To become TVL champions, the Huskies will most likely have to win out and hope that Escalon loses at least one game in the last four TVL contests of the year.


“Our message to the team is that the biggest game you're playing is this one. It’s always the next one. The next competition you have requires everything you have. That does not bring into account the opponent. I don't care if we're playing the worst team in the league. I don't care if we're playing Oakdale. It requires of you the same intensity, the same focus, the same communication, the same energy. Everything's the same,” Garza said.


“Our message is, we still continue to play to a standard. If we do our best and it's good enough on the scoreboard, we live with it. If it's not good enough on the scoreboard, then it's okay too… That's the message every game and we're just going to keep it the same in this home stretch.”

hughson bball 2
Hughson's Max Mankins fires a strike in the third inning of the Huskies' 5-0 win over TVL foe Ripon on Thursday. - photo by CANDY PADILLA /The Journal