Hilmar High's 3rd annual Easter baseball tournament kicked off on Wednesday, welcoming six schools from across the area for four days of friendly, yet fierce competition. The Yellowjackets (4-2 TVL) played their first game on Thursday, facing off against the Southern Athletic League's Le Grand High. Prior to the game some feared that the heavy rain would delay the matchup but the weather cleared long enough for Hilmar to take a 12-6 win over the Bulldogs.
"I hadn't seen them play all year so I just told my boys to go out there and swing the bat," Hilmar's head coach Justin Steelman said.
Hilmar swung and scored in the first inning when a Garret Jericoff double sent Matt Tyler across home plate. The ‘Jackets exited the first inning with the one run as Steelman warned them that one inning would not be enough to win the game.
Instead of relying on its early offensive success Hilmar relied on its defense, led by Tyler on the mound. The Bulldogs struggled at the plate against Tyler and Hilmar, rarely putting runners on base and failing to get past second for the majority of the game when they did. Tyler finished the game with six strike outs and one allowed hit.
Hilmar also struggled on offense after the first inning as the ‘Jackets had trouble finding their rhythm with the bat. It wasn't until the sixth inning that things began to fall into place as Bulldog errors coupled with Hilmar hits led to a nine-run inning for the ‘Jackets.
During the course of the sixth inning six Hilmar batters were walked, which resulted in two runs, three pitches were mishandled by the Bulldogs, which resulted in two more runs, and several batters were hit as Le Grand's Aaron Salcido's accuracy from the hill waned. Lucas Vaughn, Tyler, Jericoff, and Kyle Batista all recorded sixth inning RBIs in what proved to be a disheartening inning for Le Grand.
"Sometimes there's that inning where you get good hits and things come together," Steelman said.
The Bulldogs finally scored their first run in the bottom of the sixth before scoring their final five in the seventh but Hilmar's sensational sixth inning was more than enough to seal their fate.
Although the rain didn't ruin Wednesday's or Thursday's matchups the weather took its toll on the baseball field by Friday, forcing Hilmar to cancel the remainder of the tournament.
"It's unfortunate but the field is just saturated," Steelman said. "We put an end to it and we'll start over next year."
With the Easter tournament behind them, the ‘Jackets have now redirected their focus on their remaining six games and the TVL championship. Hilmar will play Riverbank High twice this week, at home on Tuesday and away on Thursday.
"When they play to their potential and as a family they're unstoppable," Steelman said. "I haven't had a team like this in a while."