Of course, it had to end this way.
Fans packed the Turlock High baseball field not just to watch the Bulldogs’ game against Pitman High. This was more than a typical meeting between the two crosstown rival schools, considering a Central California Conference title was on the line.
And who provided the heroics on Tuesday afternoon?
It was Ryan Brown, who smacked a hard shot to centerfield to send in speedster Tommy Evans all the way from first base for the game-winning run in a thrilling 4-3 win over the Pride, who was hoping to pull off a second victory over the Bulldogs this season. Instead, the Turlock players celebrated their second consecutive league title — though this time, they share it with Merced High, which topped Golden Valley in the other league finale.
“We just took it as just another game,” said Brown, the catcher who provided the game-winning hit with two outs left in the bottom of the seventh inning. As soon as he got to third base after seeing Evans cross home plate, he took off his helmet, slammed it onto the ground and began celebrating with this teammates. “It was just another at bat.”
Just like his teammates, Brown was happy to escape with a share of the league title after going through a midseason meltdown in which the Bulldogs (20-5 overall, 11-4 CCC) suffered three straight league losses, including one to Pitman.
The Pride still has more baseball to play. They finished with 17-10 overall with a 10-5 league record, enough for the third and final playoff seed in the CCC. This is the first time since 2006 that the Pride has made it into the postseason; the last time ended in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South title.
“It does hurt,” said outfielder Zach Olsen, who had a two-RBI double in the sixth inning to tie the game at 3-3. “We were so close. To come short of a league title leaves a bad taste. But Turlock deserves it.”
After Ryan Flood scored a walk-in run in the third, Kevin Kramer completed what his coach, Mark de la Motte, said was a “crucial play” of the game. Kramer’s sacrifice fly in the fourth to left field sent in Evans for a 2-0 lead, which was then followed by a Ryan Cumberland single that sent in Brown.
But Pitman charged back. After his two-run RBI double at the top of the sixth inning, Olsen scored after Adam Nascimento sent a line-drive single to centerfield to tie the game at 3-3. But the Bulldogs didn’t panic, thanks to Brown’s late-game heroics, Evan’s base-running ability and the game-saving pitching of Nick Voumard to end the game.
The Bulldogs have one more game before the playoffs, as they will play at Oakdale High at 4 p.m. today in nonconference action. Pitman will prepare for the SJS Division I South Tournament, which starts Monday with the complete bracket not yet set.
To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.