The race for the baseball Trans-Valley League title looks clearer after Ripon came out and fended off Hilmar High in Wednesday's first match up in a two-game series.
Hilmar started freshman Treven Crowley on the mound for his first start and he made an effective impact, allowing just a pair of runs in nearly six innings of work, but unfortunately the Indians managed to rally late and held off the Yellowjackets in a close 4-3 final.
“We competed today — you get in a one run game with a defending league champion, nothing to hang our head about,” said Hilmar head coach Bobby Swedberg. “Our pitchers threw good strikes today and kept their hitters off balance.”
Crowley concluded the game with 5 and 2/3 innings of work, while walking four and striking out seven.
“Our freshman threw the ball well today. Obviously with Trev, the future is bright with him,” said Swedberg. “He gives us a chance to win every time he steps on the mound. Very impressed, we have to keep the pitch count low, but for his first start at varsity, definitely impressive.”
With the loss, Hilmar is in fourth place at 3-3 while Escalon tops all with a perfect 7-0 record. Ripon (5-2) trails a 6-2 Mountain House by just a game.
It was Ripon who put up the first run of the game to lead things off in the first and went up 1-0. Ripon took that lead into the third and extended it to 2-0 before Hilmar broke the shutout.
Chris Flores was driven in on a sacrifice with two outs and the lead was cut to 2-1.
That score carried into the bottom of the fourth when Hilmar finally took the first lead of the game after adding a pair of runs. Preston Costa was first after he drove in Crowley after a perfect RBI bunt that evened the score at 2-2. Costa was driven in just two batters later for the go-ahead to take the 3-2 lead and then Flores loaded up the bases with no outs pending a big inning.
Three straight outs followed, starting with a strikeout and ending with a double play out at home.
“We tried challenging the left fielder early and got that throw out which was a big out,” said Swedberg. “We tried to put that pressure on early to score that one run. It's one inch here and one inch there, that is baseball. There wasn't anything really that we did or didn't do to win or lose in this game. We competed and we were right there.”
Ripon also didn't have their best game, committing three errors to Hilmar's one.
Luke Petker, the starting pitcher for Ripon, did his job well, by pitching a complete game, allowing seven hits, walking two and striking out five.
“Probably one of the best pitchers you will see in the TVL,” said Swedberg.
In the top of the sixth, with two on and two outs, Ripon went up after a two-run RBI hit from Michael Winters.
Hilmar was held off despite a late rally attempt after Sammy Agueda, who came in to relief Crowley in the sixth and seventh, drilled a shot to the left field wall that bounced off the top part and stayed in play, allowing a double to be hit with one out.
Wyatt Amaral was then subbed in for Agueda as a pinch runner and took third after a pass ball during the next at-bat.
Petker was able to get a strikeout and managed to get Crowley for the final out after a hard shot to the third basemen and throw to first.
Flores went 2-for-3 with a run scored. Austin Sutton had an RBI. Costa added an RBI and scored a run while Crowley was 1-for-3 with a run.
“We were able to get guys on and play some small ball when we needed to and got big hits when we needed to and we played good defense,” said Swedberg. “Pretty much a clean game right there, definitely nothing to hang your head about.”
Hilmar will close out the two-game series on the road at Ripon at 4 p.m. Friday.