Hilmar baseball’s hopes for the Trans-Valley League title remain alive as they earned their second consecutive win against the Escalon Cougars by a score of 9-3 on Thursday. The Yellowjackets rode a gritty pitching performance from senior Jason Pimentel, who tossed a complete game while striking out 10 batters.
The game began as an all-out rubber match between Pimentel and Escalon starter Jamin Miller. Through the first five and a half innings, the two each gave up only one run while limiting the opposing offenses to four hits and four walks, combined.
Hilmar kicked off the scoring in the home half of the third when junior Kazuki Mihono scored freshman John Labno on a sacrifice fly to left field. It took Escalon until the top half of the sixth inning to even the score when the Cougars took advantage of a pair of Hilmar fielding errors by senior John Cooper King to load the bases. Batting with the bases loaded, Miller helped his own cause on the mound with an RBI groundout.
After Pimentel escaped the sixth inning without further damage, the then closely contested game would fail to last. The Hilmar offense proceeded to explode for eight runs in bottom of the inning, tallying three hits and having three more batters reach on Escalon errors.
Hilmar head coach Jeff Brown praised his lineup for the late game scoring, particularly King. After the costly errors the inning before, King started the rally with a leadoff hit, scored on one of the errors, and drove in an additional two runs later in the inning.
“Cooper made a couple throwing errors that inning that gave them that first run to tie it up, but that says a lot about who Cooper is. He comes up there and hits that rocket to get us going. He just had a tremendous series,” Brown said.
The offensive effort was also greatly appreciated by Pimentel.
“I think knowing that they saw that I was working my tail off, they knew that they had to pick me up and they did,” Pimentel said
Escalon head coach Greg Largent explained that while the rally was a disappointment, it did not come as a surprise.
“That's our season in a nutshell,” Largent said. “We play tough for about four or five innings, and we'll scrap and score a run or tie it up, and then we can't close the door. We can't get a shutdown inning and that's basically what we saw again today.”
While the Cougars found themselves in a 9-1 deficit in the last inning, they were able to get multiple runners on base and threaten a late comeback. The first three Escalon batters to face Pimentel in his seventh inning of work reached base via a hit-by-pitch and two walks. An RBI single by junior Cameron Ruiz and an RBI groundout by senior Josh Miller made it a 9-3 ballgame.
“I’m proud of the way the guys and a lot of the backups battled back right there,” Largent said. “They were ready when their name came up.”
Pimentel was able to work a groundout to finally end the game, something that Brown was proud with.
“Jason Pimentel is a competitor,” Brown said. “I think he was kind of running out of gas a little bit, but you know, he did a tremendous job for us and kept us in that game until we broke it loose.”
“I think I had a really good performance. I think I definitely did my job and the offense did theirs. It was a team win today,” Pimentel added.
As the two teams set their sights on tournaments next week, both head coaches have optimism that they can build on their latest results.
“We’ve kind of struggled at the plate, so we're trying to fix that. We also had a few errors today, so we just got to clean those things up, but our pitching has been tremendous for us and they've kept us in ball games, so we just need to play catch a little bit better and keep going a little more offensively,” Brown said.
Largent will be looking for his team, which includes seven underclassmen, to gain more experience and learn to execute cleanly for a complete game.
“We’re looking for all our guys to get more time in the field during this tournament play and hopefully they can make the most of the opportunities in front of them,” Largent said.
After their respective tournaments, Escalon will look to get back into the winner’s circle against non-league opponents such as Central Valley and Linden while Hilmar will look to seize the TVL title against first-place Ripon.