Gregori High’s Jeff Gray pitched six solid innings, allowing just three hits while striking out seven, leading the Jaguars to a 3-2 Modesto Metro Conference win over Beyer.
The victory gives Gregori (5-4, 2-0 MMC) a sweep over Beyer in their home-and-home, two-game series, and ties them with Modesto for the early conference lead.
The loss put a bit of a downer on an otherwise festive day for Beyer (5-5, 0-2), which before the contest renamed its baseball diamond Cornwell Field, in honor of longtime coach Paul Corwell.
“Our Kryptonite right now is the curveball,” said Patriots head coach Dom Duran, whose team managed just three hits, often passing on hittable pitches. “Why would anybody throw us a fastball right now.”
Gray sure didn’t, at least, not in crucial spots. The junior right-hander used his off-speed pitches effectively, even though he’s still battling a case of the flu that caused him to skip Tuesday’s start (Gregori scored four runs in the seventh two day earlier – getting a walk-off single from Michael Olivarez that plated Andrew Urrutia with the winning run – for a 4-3 victory in the MMC opener).
“I was supposed to start on Tuesday,” said Gray after the game. “But I didn’t feel like barfing on the mound.”
Surely, Beyer’s pitchers appreciated that.
“But I felt really good today,” Gray continued. “My coach tells me to stay strong mentally, bear down, throw strikes and trust my defense. And that’s what I did today.”
Gray allowed the leadoff runner to reach base in the first, third, fifth, sixth and seventh innings, but mostly pitched out of trouble.
In the last of the seventh, with the Jaguars nursing a 3-1 lead, Jason Perry opened with a double that chased Gray. Justin Cox came on in relief and struck out the first batter he faced, bringing up Connor Crawford, the Patriots’ leading hitter at .400.
After Perry moved to third on a wild pitch, Connor smashed a shot that appeared destined for the hole between first and second, but first baseman Roberto Flores dove to knock down the ball, then got up and flipped the ball to Cox covering the bag.
“I wasn’t sure,” said Cox, when asked if he thought that ball would get through and tie the game. “Sometimes I kind of space out. I ran over there on instinct. It was a close play.”
Perry scored, but when Flores smothered the ball in the dirt, he also smothered any momentum Beyer may have gained had the ball gotten through.
After that, Cox induced an easy ground ball to shortstop Tyler Janitz, who fired to Flores for the last out.
The Jags jumped ahead 1-0 in the second when Olivarez singled, moved to second on a fielder’s choice, then scored on a single by designated hitter Todd Stewart. They made it 2-0 an inning later when Urrutia led off with a single, advanced to second on a wild pitch, moved to third an a fielder’s choice and scored on a sac fly to center by Flores.
Beyer halved the lead with an RBI double from Crawford in the fifth, but Gregori got the run back in the sixth on an RBI single from Olivarez, the lone player in the contest with two hits.
Beyer pitcher Micah Hall pitched well enough to win for the Pats, scattering seven hits over seven innings.
“He kept us in the game the whole time,” Duran said of his junior right-hander. “He kept the ball down and got ground balls when he needed them.
“Pitching and defense are not our problem right now.”
Before the game, both teams stood along the baselines as Cornwell was honored for his nearly four decades of service to the Beyer High baseball program.
The Modesto native played for legendary coach Dick Windemuth at Davis High School (Class of ’67) and then graduated from Westmont College four years later. Three years after that, he was running his own program at Beyer.
“We don’t get into this profession for these types of things,” said Cornwell, who won 510 games, seven Central California Conference banners, and three Sac-Joaquin Sub-Section titles in 31 seasons as head coach (he later served as an assistant under Mitch Munthe and Steve Clark). “It’s a huge honor to have the field named for me and to know they think this much of me, but there are reasons I stayed in coaching.”
Cornwell cited his work with young student-athletes as his main reason for sticking around as long as he did. He admitted that he wasn’t above keeping a player on the roster that might otherwise have been cut, just so he could help foster him through the often difficult teenage years.
Cornwell thanked his players and former coaches for helping him achieve the honor, but it was his wife who got the biggest tip of the cap from the former coach.
“I’d like to thank my wife, Karen, for 42-plus years of positive support for my teaching and coaching career.”