After mowing down Bret Harte in a 10-0 opening round playoff victory, Escalon moved a step closer to the Section title game with a decisive 9-1 win against Dixon.
The first game in Escalon’s playoff run came on Thursday, May 18 with a 7 p.m. start at Billy Hebert Field in Stockton, taking on Bret Harte. Escalon went in to the game as the top seed; Bret Harte had to win a play-in game to get there and was the number eight seed, topping number nine West Campus in the play in game.
For Escalon, it was all about pitching, defense and timely hitting. Three key ingredients that all played a role in the shutout win.
Starting pitcher Justice Naraghi went the distance, pitching a no-hitter in the five-inning contest. He walked one batter and hit two but Bret Harte could not register a hit against the senior hurler.
“I was just trying to locate my fast ball and then keep them off balance with the off speed pitch, everything was working pretty good,” said Naraghi, who admitted he didn’t realize he was working on a no-hitter. “This is huge for us, advancing to the next round.”
Fellow senior Jake Alvarado had a stellar night as well, coming up with several sparkling defensive plays at first and, in one case, running down the Bret Harte baserunner attempting to steal third, keeping him hung up between the bases long enough to cross the diamond and make the tag.
It was also Alvarado’s bases clearing three-run double that ended the game in the bottom of the fifth, giving Escalon the victory via the 10-run rule.
“With the bases loaded, I just wanted to do something productive,” the happy senior said following the blast. “I wanted to make solid contact. This is definitely in the top 10 of the best games, we have great team chemistry, it’s just great to play with everyone.”
Escalon got two runs in the first inning of the Thursday night game, with consecutive singles from Colton Lowney, Parker Cosby and Lucca Dutra, driving in the first run. Naraghi then followed with a sacrifice fly. In the third, three more runs crossed the plate. A leadoff walk to Estephan Salcedo saw Max Nicholas attempting to put down the sacrifice bunt but Bret Harte threw it away, allowing both runners to advance. Salcedo was thrown out at the plate, trying to stretch the error into a run, but Nicholas made it to second. Lowney followed with a single and the big hit in the inning came from Naraghi, who rapped a two-RBI single after Dutra reached base via a walk.
While Naraghi did the job at the plate, he also was cruising on the mound and ended up with four strikeouts in throwing just 70 pitches.
Escalon closed out the contest in the fifth, scoring five runs.
Nicholas singled, Lowney walked, Cosby walked and Dutra walked to drive in a run. After an out, Zach Abraham singled to drive in one run and, with the bases still loaded, Alvarado smashed his three-run double.
Heading back to Billy Hebert Field for an afternoon game on Saturday, the Cougars battled the heat and the fourth seeded Dixon team, which had topped number five Mountain House in the opening round.
“We hung in there for a long time,” said head coach Greg Largent. “It was a pitcher’s duel for the first four innings.”
Dixon got on the board first, scoring their lone run in the fifth inning on a two-out RBI single.
“We answered in the bottom of the fifth,” Largent said.
Naraghi was hit by a pitch, Abraham walked, Alvarado put down a bunt but they got Naraghi out at third. After a strikeout, Salcedo sent a ball to the warning track and it went off the fielder’s glove, allowing two runs to score.
After getting the lead, pitcher Nick Warren slammed the door.
“He shut them down, he was dominant all day, even in that heat, the infield is turf and you could just see the heat waves coming off it,” explained Largent. “Nick threw a complete game, 87 pitches; he had four strikeouts, two walks, allowed two hits.”
In the bottom of the sixth, Escalon erupted for seven runs, putting the game out of reach. They sent 10 men to the plate and key hits were a double by Dutra down the left field line, an RBI single from Alvarado, a two-run single from Salcedo and RBI singles from Lowney and Cosby.
“We must have hit for 30 minutes that inning,” noted Largent.
The Escalon uprising also seemed to take the fight out of the Rams.
“The top of the seventh, they went quietly,” agreed Largent. “Tanner McCrary made a great catch against the left field fence for the final out of the game.”
Salcedo went 3-for-3 with four RBI and made two great catches in right field during the game, while Warren and Cosby proved to be a formidable combination on the mound and behind the plate.
“It was a total team effort, Jake played a great first base again,” added Largent.
JV players brought up for the playoffs also had the opportunity to get in, with Cole Gilbert, Anthony LaRossa, Daniel Luis and Carson George making the jump to the varsity squad for the postseason.
Escalon had seven hits on the day and the two teams will meet again Wednesday, May 24 at 4 p.m. at Billy Hebert. If the Cougars win the 4 p.m. game, they advance to the Section championship game on Monday, May 29. If they lose that contest, it sets up a second game half an hour after the first contest, with the winner moving on to the title contest.
“Hopefully we get that first one done Wednesday,” Largent said.
On the other side of the bracket, number two seed Capital Christian defeated number six Marysville, 5-3, in their best two-out-of-three series and were scheduled to play the second, and possibly third, game on Tuesday, after The Times went to press.