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Turlock Christian, Hughson swept in baseball semifinals
Turlock Christian baseball
Turlock Christian freshman Max Salas fires in a strike against Woodland Christian on Wednesday in the fourth inning of the Eagles’ 19-3 loss at Mark de la Motte Field in the second game of the 2024 CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division 7 playoffs (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

The playoff runs of the Turlock Christian and Hughson High varsity baseball teams came to an end on Wednesday, as each team lost the second game of their respective best-of-three Sac Joaquin Section semifinal series.

The fourth-seeded Eagles of Turlock Christian played host to top-seeded Woodland Christian at Mark de la Motte Field on the campus of Turlock High School in the second game of the Division 7 semifinal series, looking to force a decisive third game after falling to the Cardinals 9-2 on Monday. 

A back-and-forth affair through the first four frames Wednesday, the wheels came off for TC in the fifth inning as the Cardinals scored twice to extend their lead to 5-2. WC added on another two runs in the sixth before a bloodbath of a seventh inning saw the Cardinals score 12 on nine hits and four errors, leading to a lopsided 19-3 final.

The Eagles trailed for a majority of the game after their starting pitcher, left-handed freshman Max Salas, gave up an RBI single in the first inning after walking the first two batters of the game. After throwing 24 pitches in the first inning, Salas eventually found control of his fastball, curveball and slider, tossing a clean second inning before another run came across in the third inning courtesy of two consecutive TC errors. He allowed a third runner to score in the fourth frame on a wild pitch, and was pulled in the fifth after allowing an RBI single to extend the Cardinal lead to 4-2 at the time.

The southpaw finished after 4 ⅔ innings of work in which he gave up 3 earned runs on four hits and two walks while punching out three. The Eagles committed four errors behind him.

Turlock Christian received their first runs of the game when freshman Winston York slapped a two-run single up the middle with the bases loaded to tie the game at two. In the sixth innings, with the Eagles trailing 7-2, they scored their third run of the game on an RBI single by Josiah Poirier.

There’s a lot to take away from TC’s 2024 season. After losing arguably four of their best players from last year’s D-7 runner-up squad — Beau Blake, Xavier Ruezga, Andrew Fisher and Jayden Espinoza — to Hughson, the Eagles still managed a 13-5 regular season record, including a 7-3 record in Central California Athletic Alliance play. The fact that there were 11 underclassmen on this year’s roster, many being starters in the field and on their rotation, also provides optimism for head coach Bill York and his staff.

As for Hughson, their season came to an abrupt end after falling 6-5 to Sutter, who scored all six of their runs unanswered in the last two innings.

Like the Eagles, the Huskies also entered their Division 5 contest with their backs against the wall after losing to Sutter at home 10-2 on Monday. They faced a (literal) tall task Wednesday facing 6-foot-6, 205 pound right-hander Jagger Beck, who is committed to play collegiately at the University of Hawaii next year. The Hughson offense was unfazed, though.

In the first inning, the Huskies tagged Beck for three runs, Their first run came as JC Lupercio scored easily on a Paul Wagner triple. Wagner, a senior, then slid home on a wild pitch. The third run came on a fielding error that allowed Carlos Guizar to cross home plate. Beck allowed another run when Beau Blake scurried home on a Bryce McDaniel fielder’s choice with the bases loaded. They extended the lead to 5-0 on another error an inning later.

Opposite of Beck on the mound for Hughson was junior Max Mankins, who gave up just one run in the sixth inning on three hits and three walks while tallying up four strikeouts. Wagner was then called upon to close out the game in the seventh. The right-hander allowed three of the first four batters to reach base before allowing an RBI single and a bases loaded walk to shorten the lead to 5-3. 

Wagner was pulled after the bases loaded walk in favor of junior Andrew Fisher, who gave up a two-run single to the first batter he faced, Ezra Hilleary. Fisher was tagged again by the very next batter, Jonny Munger, who snuck a line drive past Guizar at first base to cap off the comeback and end Hughson’s season.

Like Turlock Christian, the Huskies will have 11 returning student-athletes in 2025, though major holes will be left by departing senior starters Wagner, Caleb Wilson and Blaine Fusi. They finished their 2024 campaign with a 26-4 overall record, which included a Trans-Valley League title clinched two weeks ago after going 11-1 in conference play.