OAKDALE — When a program has won four consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section titles and six of the last seven, losing three games in the second half of the league season counts as a major slump.
But if Oakdale High School is worried about settling for third place in the Valley Oak League, the concern wasn’t visible during Monday’s playoff-opening 10-1 victory over Los Banos.
Bryce Dyrda, who committed to playing baseball for USC more than 13 months ago, celebrated his final home game with four hits, including three doubles, as the Mustangs (18-8) advanced to the second round of the Division IV playoffs.
And since Garret Bryhni shut down the Tigers (15-9) on one unearned run and six hits in a complete game, it will be Dyrda and his 93-mph fastball taking on top-seeded Vista del Lago of Folsom at 7 p.m. Thursday at Lodi’s Zupo Field. Ceres will battle Sierra in the other elimination game, slated for 4 p.m.
“We’re hitting our stride right now after hitting a rough patch going through the second half of the league season,” Dyrda said. “Things are starting to fall into place. I’m happy with the results, as is everybody else right now.”
Oakdale will take a six-game win streak into Thursday and has outscored its opponents 67-5 during the run. Yes, that’s momentum.
But more important to first-year coach Nate Gregory is how this year’s squad has successfully handled the burden of the annual expectations that come with playing Mustang baseball.
“Learning to deal with that has been part of the progress this year,” Gregory said. “I like the way they’ve handled it, because a lot of the time kids tend to put too much pressure on themselves to do too much. We’ve grown and will continue to play well when it matters.”
Oakdale did show some jitters early against Los Banos, committing errors on the first two plays. The Tigers turned the bobbles into a run when Tyler Slayday’s single scored talented center fielder Corbin Lilledahl from third base.
That was all Bryhni would allow, as the senior successfully pitched to contact against an aggressive Los Banos attack.
The Mustangs sent 10 batters to the plate to score four runs in the first inning against Los Banos starter Brevin Welch, and nine more hitters came up in a five-run second.
From that point, with Oakdale leading 9-1 after two innings, it seemed just a matter of time before the Mustangs got a large-enough lead to evoke the five-inning, 10-run mercy rule.
To the Tigers’ credit, especially to the credit of reliever Josh Gould, the game went the distance.
“I’m proud for the way we hung in,” first-year coach Pat Fuentes said. “They’re young and they’re not used to this atmosphere or this type of baseball yet. It’s a good learning experience for them, and the future is looking bright for Los Banos baseball.”
As it always seems to be in Oakdale.
“It’s a pretty special group here,” Dyrda said. “We have a lot of good chemistry and experience, and we’re not real focused on the end prize right now – we just want to win one game at a time and do the little things we need to do to be successful.”