LODI — It might seem backward that the Sac-Joaquin Section plays best-of-three semifinal rounds in baseball to set up a one-game, winner-take all final, but all teams have to deal with that reality.
If it means a championship can be decided on a single bad hop, then so be it.
And if it means that a team's ace won't get the chance to pitch in the ultimate game, then that's the way the ball bounces.
Fortunately, neither Oakdale High nor Central Catholic will be in that situation when they meet tonight at 6 o'clock at Tony Zupo Field for the Division 4 championship.
The meeting of future Valley Oak League rivals comes at the end of a championship triple-header at the venerable canopied ballpark.
Mariposa (22-3) faces Bradshaw Christian (23-6) for the Division 6 title at noon, and Escalon (21-9-1) will be aiming for its fourth straight Division 5 crown at 3 p.m. against Capital Christian (24-5-1).
Raiders senior righty Matt Palazzo (6-1, 1.55 ERA) has been his team's most consistent pitcher, although he allowed five runs on seven hits over five innings in Tuesday's 13-6, nine-inning loss to Manteca.
The Mustangs have a choice in their stable. Senior Eddie Machado (8-0, 0.84) has thrown 12 straight scoreless innings on the Zupo Field mound, including a seven-inning no-hitter against Cosumnes Oaks on May 18.
Or, Oakdale can go with junior Bryce Dyrda (9-2, 0.98) who already has made a verbal commitment to play baseball at the University of Southern California.
"We'll see who goes Monday," said Oakdale coach Hondo Arpoika, who is retiring from coaching following the game. "I don't know because Eddie threw (Wednesday). It was a short (five-inning) night, so we'll see where he's at."
Dyrda, who hasn't pitched since May 18, said on Wednesday that he planned to prepare for the final as if it was going to be his start.
At the very least, he wants to be in there at the end of another great season for Oakdale baseball.
The Mustangs have won three straight Division 4 crowns and five of the last six.
"We lost so much talent off last year's great team," Dyrda said. "We started off slow before hitting our stride and now everything is falling in place for us."
Central Catholic also is chasing history. The Raiders have won a section-best 11 blue banners in baseball. Seven came consecutively at the Division 5 level (2003-09) while the others came at Division 4 in 1998, 2000-02.
A win today not only would allow Central to tie Oakdale with five Division 4 titles, but would cap a surprisingly successful season for the Raiders.
"This team, I'll be honest, I think is overachieving," said coach Mike Glines. "When you think about how many of these guys will go on and play even JC ball, and when you see that not a lot of these guys are year-round ballplayers.
"They're peaking at the right time. I just hope Palazzo can come up big in the next one."
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek