Opening up the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 playoffs at home, the Escalon varsity baseball Cougars got past visiting Liberty Ranch on Tuesday, May 15. It was a 6-3 final, one of two victories the squad got in its first three playoff games. The Cougars went in as the number six seed in D4; Liberty Ranch came in at number 11.
Escalon spotted Liberty Ranch a run in the top of the first in their opening round game, with a walk, a hit batter and a single pushing the run across.
“We were then able to get a 6-4-3 double play to get out of the inning,” said head coach Greg Largent. “In the bottom of the first, we were able to answer back.”
By the time the first inning was over, Escalon had scored three runs to take a 3-1 lead.
A two-run single from Cole Gilbert and a Zach Abraham sacrifice fly accounted for the scoring.
More runs in the third inning for both teams, with one scored by Liberty Ranch in the top of the inning to trim the lead to 3-2, Escalon answering with one in their half on a bases loaded walk to Steven Grossi to make it 4-2.
The visitors just wouldn’t go away, noted Largent, scoring another run in the fourth with a single and a double to make it 4-3.
In the sixth inning, Escalon put a pair of runs on the board to get a little breathing room.
Estephan Salcedo walked and stole second, Parker Cosby doubled to drive him in and then Devin Roberson went in to pinch run for Cosby. Max Nicholas singled and Paul Ayala reached on a fielder’s choice. Gilbert then followed with an RBI single to make it 6-3.
Liberty Ranch did not score in the seventh, sealing the win for the Cougars.
“Paul Ayala went six innings, it was a real gutty performance, he threw 104 pitches and was in a lot of treacherous situations,” said Largent. “He walked four and struck out five. Parker came on in the seventh and got the save.”
Thursday, the Cougars had to go on the road and face off with the number three seed Dixon team. It didn’t turn out to be much of a challenge.
“All the stars in the galaxy seemed to align,” Largent said. “We took a 16-2 victory; we exposed every mistake they made. The kids fed off each other; hitting was contagious.”
Three runs in the first for the Cougars set the tone early for the game in which they capitalized on nearly every opportunity. Colton Lowney sent a ball to deep right field for a bases loaded triple in the first, scoring all three baserunners for the 3-0 lead. Dixon scratched back for one in their half of the first to make it 3-1 but a two-run double from Ayala in the second made it 5-1 Escalon. Again, Dixon got one run back in their half of the inning and it was 5-2 after two. An RBI single from Cosby in the third put the Cougars up by a 6-2 edge.
“Our big inning was the fourth, we plated nine runs,” explained Largent. “We had two home runs in the inning, including Cole Gilbert with a deep home run to left field that went 400-plus feet.”
Cosby added a three-run shot later in the inning as the offense just overwhelmed Dixon. Also key in the inning was a two-RBI single from Abraham.
“Our last run came in the fifth, Max Nicholas had an RBI double,” Largent said.
Cosby pitched, with the game going just five innings due to the 10-run rule. He allowed five hits and threw just 60 pitches.
“He did a great job,” Largent said.
Offensive leaders were Cosby, 4-for-5 with five runs batted in; Gilbert, 3-for-4 with two RBI; Abraham with four RBI on the day and Steven Grossi with a pair of runs driven in.
“That put us into the final four,” Largent said of taking down the three seed.
The Cougars moved on to face the number two seed, Woodland, at McAuliffe Field on the Sacramento State campus in a Saturday afternoon game, May 19.
“Normally we are very solid defensively,” Largent said.
But that was not the case on Saturday and the Cougars found the tables turned, as their mistakes came back to haunt them, much the same as Dixon’s had in the previous game.
“We committed four errors that led to five of their six runs being unearned,” the coach noted of allowing too many opportunities to Woodland. “We only managed four hits, just couldn’t get anything going and there were a couple of calls against us that might have cost us a run or two.”
The final was 6-2 in favor of Woodland, putting Escalon into a must-win situation.
“Woodland is a scrappy team,” said Largent.
Escalon got its runs on an RBI ground out from Salcedo in the fifth and a Gilbert RBI single in the sixth. Woodland countered with three runs in the second, one in the third and two in the fifth.
Anthony LaRossa got the start and pitched three-and-a-third innings, Gilbert came on in relief. Largent also pointed to the efforts of Luke Anderson, pulled up from the JV team, as adding to the team attack, notching a single against Woodland.
The loss set up Escalon to play against Capital Christian on Tuesday, May 22 in a 4 p.m. contest at Sac State, after The Times went to press.
“They have been our nemesis the last few years,” admitted Largent, with Capital Christian getting the better of Escalon in recent years, including defeating the Cougars in last year’s Division 5 Section final. The Capital Christian Cougars, the number five seed, fell to top seed El Dorado, putting both Cougar squads in the loser’s bracket and in the position of having to win to continue in the postseason.
“The loser goes home,” Largent said. “The winner will play the loser of the El Dorado-Woodland game on Thursday, May 24.
Capital Christian had earlier dispatched Mountain House, which went in as the number four seed. Escalon and Mountain House tied for the TVL title this season.
“Capital Christian gave up four runs in the bottom of the seventh,” Largent said of the team losing to El Dorado. “It was a long week for us, some long road trips … we have seen Capital Christian the last several years, here we are again. Our goal now is to send them home.”