LODI — There was a 26-minute sprinkler delay at Zupo Field at the same time giant flames could be seen in the distance from a fire at a recycling plant.
Even then, the strangest thing about Oakdale Highs 7-6 loss to Vista del Lago on Thursday night was the outcome itself.
For the first time in five years and for only the second time in eight seasons, the Mustangs season ended before they collected a Sac-Joaquin Section championship.
Instead, the Eagles from Folsom will move on to the Division 4 semifinal round, where they will meet Sierra in a best-of-three series that will begin Saturday at 3 p.m., also at Zupo. Manteca and Cosumnes Oaks will play at noon to start the other semifinal.
The next time Bryce Dyrda plays baseball for the honor of a school, it will be for the University of Southern California. On this night, he was going to have to come up with his standard pitching gem for Oakdale to have a chance to beat the sections top seed, and it didnt happen.
Vista del Lago (24-4) parlayed three singles, two walks and a hit batsman into four second-inning runs, and the Mustangs (18-9) were forced to play catch-up the rest of the way.
They finally got to VDL starter Andrew Schantz in the sprinkler-delayed fourth, when Spencer Hagers bases-loaded walk was followed by Ben Solarios RBI single. But Oakdale left the bases loaded.
Schantz was pulled in the fifth, in the middle of what looked to be a promising Mustangs rally. Back-to-back walks ended his night, and Logan Halls single off reliever Michael Majeski pulled Oakdale within 4-3.
Majeski got out of the inning with two strikeouts, then blanked the Mustangs the rest of the way, not allowing a hit after Hall delivered.
Vista del Lago tacked on three insurance runs off a visibly tiring Dyrda in the sixth. The powerful righty was charged with all seven runs on six hits and five walks. He struck out eight, giving him 98 whiffs in 60 innings this season.
All the runs came into play as Oakdale, which had scored 76 runs in winning its last six games, loaded the bases with one out in the seventh, and scored on a single by Bryce Kirk and Solarios ground ball.
Majeski issused a walk to load the bases, moving the tying run to second, and hit Tanner Morgan to force home a run. Majeski got ahead of Dyrda 1-2, then threw a perfect curveball to get Dyrda swinging to end the game.
Sierra 9, Ceres 6 The Bulldogs find themselves caught in a baseball version of a Catch-22.
Ceres needs to find a way to lose the jitters it seems to run into each season in its first playoff game, but the only sure way to do that is to win a postseason game.
Against the Timberwolves, the pitching-short Bulldogs gave up 11 hits in the first four innings to trail 9-0. They not only rallied late, but brought the potential tying run to the on-deck circle in the seventh.
We set out to win the league this year and we did that, said Ceres coach Brad Bussard, whose Bulldogs (23-6) have lost their first playoff game in four straight seasons.
We came in the playoffs, where everything is icing on the cake. We have to get over the aura of the playoffs. Weve been here enough so that nothing here should be a surprise for us.
Likewise, Sierra has not enjoyed playoff success since some of its younger players were in diapers. The Timberwolves (21-4) hadnt won a postseason game since 2001, a year after they reached the programs lone section final as a Division 2 school.
Ceres top two starters Alan Marquez (8-0, 1.59) and Brad Bussard (7-0, 0.32) both are battling arm soreness and were unavailable to pitch. The Bulldogs sent senior Dylan Canatsy to the mound, and Sierra hit him hard, scoring six runs on nine hits in 21/3 innings.
Ryan Vasquez, Dakota Conners, Kyle Oden and Ian Rodriguez all had two hits apiece in the first three innings, and when Tyler Moss ripped a two-run double in the fourth, the Timberwolves were a run away from triggering the 10-run mercy rule.
The Bulldogs wouldnt let it happen, finally getting to Sierra starter Leo Soto for a run in the fifth. Ceres reliever Merrik Price blanked the Timberwolves in the fifth and sixth, giving the Bulldogs a spark.
They would score five times in the seventh, with Bussard, Brandon Machado and Jimmy Bates all collecting two-out RBI hits before Conners finally got the final out for Sierra.
We always talk to our players about playing well early, and I thought we did, said Sierra coach Jack Thomson. But we also talk to them about playing well late, and we didnt close out the game the way Id like to see.
But Ceres swings the bats. We were fortunate to make some plays on line drives or it could have been different.