DENAIR — At one point, the Turlock Christian High baseball team was down by three runs to one of the Eagles' biggest rivals in Denair High. It was a tense situation, considering the circumstances surrounding Tuesday's Southern League game.
A playoff spot was at stake.
It was the annual clashing of schools that sit on the same street.
But on top of all that, it was Ron Cornell's day. Minutes earlier, the retired Denair baseball coach was immortalized after the Denair Unified School District formally announced that the Coyotes baseball field would be called the Ronald W. Cornell Baseball Park. And he earned this recognition before many of his former players, as well as a larger-than-normal crowd for both teams.
“This blows me away,” Cornell said of the honor.
Even with that kind of pressure, the Eagles still prevailed. Enter Jesse Lopes, a freshman who broke the game open in the fourth inning after he slammed out his first home run of his high school career — this one a three-run blast that eventually gave Turlock Christian an 11-6 win. The victory also secured a playoff berth for the Eagles, who hadn't been in the playoffs since 2007.
Turlock Christian improved to 10-2 in the league, as the Eagles sit in first.
“I didn't doubt it once,” Coach Jon Valenti said about the comeback. “We're going to be in every game. I was kind of upset that we came out flat. But no, I wasn't worried — not one bit.”
Entering the top of the fourth, the Eagles were down 4-1.
That's when Turlock Christian went on a rally, producing five runs on three hits and one error to take over the lead at 6-4. Lopes went 3-for-4 with two runs scored and three RBIs, as Miles Martinez finished 3-for-4 and Kody Heppner got on base four times and crossed the plate twice. Trevor Starn also knocked out a three-run blast in the top of the sixth to give the Eagles some insurance runs and a 10-4 advantage.
Denair also had some highlights. The Coyotes (5-8 SL) produced two-run rallies in the second and third to take an early lead, with Brett Arnold and Brian Willis each coming away with an RBI. Trevor Werner got on base three times and finished with two hits and one run scored.
But then a Turlock Christian freshman provided the spark the Eagles needed, as Lopes said he felt no pressure while at the plate or on the mound, where he came in to relieve in the middle part of the game and left with the win.
And it all took place during a day reserved for Cornell, who coached the Denair baseball team for 38 years before retiring from coaching and teaching last year. He now spends more time with his family, while working on different jobs for his friends. He also attends Denair baseball games, though from now on, it'll be different seeing his name attached to the ballpark.
“This is a special feeling,” the 62-year-old said.
To contact Chhun Sun, e-mail email@example.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2041.