A nearly two-hour road trip to an unfamiliar town doesn’t sound so pleasant for a high school sports team, especially during vacation time.
Not for the Turlock High baseball team, which is in the middle of spring break.
The Bulldogs needed this experience, however, after having lost three straight league games before traveling to Encinal High in Alameda last Saturday to play against Berkeley High in the championship game of the 20th annual Willie Stargell Easter Classic. The team bonding helped, as they exploded for four runs before the game’s first out en route a dominating 9-3 win.
“It was good to get our confidence back,” Turlock coach Mark de la Motte said. “We played well and got back on track.”
The Bulldogs were up 5-2 before first baseman James Heller knocked out a grand slam at the bottom of the fourth inning to intimidate any sort of Berkeley comeback. Dylan Silva, a left-hander, pitched a four-hit complete game with five strikeouts to finish with a perfect 6-0 record.
Both Ryan Flood and Ryan Cumberland went 2-for-3 with a double apiece, as Cumberland also contributed with two RBIs. Those numbers helped them land all-tournament honors, while teammate and leadoff hitter Ryan Brown left Alameda as the tournament’s MVP.
Again, this was needed.
Before last Saturday, the Bulldogs had suffered three straight league losses to crosstown rival Pitman High, Buhach Colony High and Merced High — a streak that dropped them to 8-4 after having owned control of the Central California Conference for much of the season. Turlock (17-4 overall) is now tied with Pitman for second place behind league-leader Merced.
So the 97-mile trip to Alameda, said de la Motte, “was good to spend together off the field. It helped bring the team closer together.”
The Stargell run really started last year when de la Motte was searching online for a tournament to coincide with the Bulldogs’ late spring break vacation this season. He contacted Jim Saunders, the Encinal coach who hosts the event. De la Motte figured this was a good opportunity to face some of the Bay Area’s best teams. He was right.
In the tournament, which started first-round games on April 2, the Bulldogs exploded for 27 runs in wins over Granada High and previously unbeaten Alameda, the East Bay’s No. 1 team. In other words, Turlock was glad to have the experience, especially going into this Saturday’s nonconference game at Lincoln High in Stockton and the CCC’s final three games.
“It was worthwhile,” de la Motte noted.
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