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Hughson suffers first TVL loss in extras against Escalon
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Caleb Wilson delivers a strike for Hughson in the third inning of Thursday’s 4-3 Trans-Valley League loss to the Escalon Cougars (ALEX MORALES/The Journal).

Hughson High’s dreams of an undefeated Trans-Valley League season came to an end Thursday afternoon with a 4-3 loss to Escalon High in eight innings, just two days after defeating the Cougars 5-1 on Tuesday. Each team now has matching 5-1 league records.

Thursday’s game was a rubber match between Hughson’s Caleb Wilson and Escalon’s Greg Adams. The two seniors each pitched into the seventh inning, striking out five and giving up three runs apiece. In extra innings, the Cougars plated the winning run after a comebacker off the bat of Logan Huebner ricocheted off reliever Paul Wagner, who quickly recovered to field the ball before sailing it wide right of catcher J.C. Lupercio as Jackson Runnels ran in from third base.

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Hughson’s Max Mankins fields a ground ball in the fourth inning of the Huskies’ 4-3 Trans-Valley League loss to the Escalon Cougars on Thursday afternoon (ALEX MORALES/The Journal).

The Huskies started the back-and-forth affair with a run in the first innings courtesy of the speedy Lupercio, who reached after getting struck by a pitch, stole second, advanced on a fielding error and stole home on a throw back to Adams on the mound. The Cougars quickly responded the next inning, plating two runs. The game was once again tied at two in the sixth inning when Wagner scored on a throwing error from the catcher.

The Cougars went ahead 3-2 in the sixth inning on a peculiar play involving Hughson third baseman Max Mankins. The junior appeared to have broken the middle finger in his right hand after trying to catch a sharp line drive off the bat of Huebner. Once the ball struck Mankins, it dribbled slowly into left field, allowing Lorenzo Texeira to score the go-ahead run. The Huskies forced extras when Carlos Guizar smacked a two-out, RBI double in the bottom of the seventh, but were unable to stage a rally as they did an inning prior.

“We're 11-2 (overall). We're playing good baseball. This is TVL baseball,” said Hughson head coach Charly Gara. “It's a grind. Escalon is a great program with rich tradition… I told the guys that this is baseball, and in a long season, you're going to have these games right here. And every loss like this is an opportunity for us to grow in different aspects of our game.”

Garza acknowledged the possibility that the Huskies would have to move forward without Mankins, who is one of the top arms in their starting rotation.

“This is what you train for. This is what we tell the guys all the time, to train hard because you never know when you're going to get an opportunity,” Garza said. “We're going to miss Max. He's a big part of our team. He's our number two pitcher… But I'm confident in the guys. We see the work that they're doing every day, and we have three to three or four guys that aren't even getting innings right now. It’s just going to be an opportunity for them to now contribute to the team in a different way.”

In Tuesday’s 5-1 win in Escalon, Mankins allowed just the one run off six hits while striking out 9 in 6 ⅔ innings. It was just one of two total runs given up by Mankins in his 19 ⅔ innings this season. He was 4-0 in all four starts, striking out 32 while allowing just one base on balls.

Trans-Valley League games will continue on April 16 when the Huskies travel to Ripon to take on the 9-3 Indians, who are 4-0 in league competition. Until then, they, like many teams, will be busy over the spring break with a heavy non-league schedule. From Monday to Wednesday, the Huskies will take part in Oakdale’s Mark Dickens Tournament, with their first matchup slated for 8:30 a.m. Monday against 9-7 Central Valley (Ceres).