STOCKTON — The goal of last year’s Gregori High School baseball team was to make the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
This Jags’ goal this year was to play a second-round game at the University of the Pacific.
Next year’s goal?
“We want to get into that Final Four and make a ton of noise,” said junior shortstop Tyler Janitz, whose team fell 8-5 to five-time defending South Section champion St. Mary’s (Stockton) at Klein Family Field. “We have the potential to be a dangerous program. We’re not sleepers anymore.”
Turlock High is already a dangerous program, and the Bulldogs proved that Thursday with a 9-3 victory over Lodi in the late game at UOP.
The Bulldogs advance to face St. Mary’s, the five-time defending South Sac-Joaquin Section D-1 champs, which beat Turlock twice during last year’s playoff run. The Rams and Bulldogs will meet Monday at 7 p.m. here at Klein Family Field.
“That’s going to be fun,” said Turlock catcher Brett Cumberland, unable to stifle a smile. “We’re looking forward to it.”
Turlock got off to a quick start, scoring four times in the top of the first.Cumberland and Alex Pallios led off with back-to-back doubles and, with one away, Jon Temple blasted a two-run homer.
“I was looking fastball, middle-in, and I got the pitch I wanted,” said Temple, the center fielder.
Nick Benson followed with a single and Anthony Moreno brought him in with another single.
Lodi regrouped to score three in the second off starter Blake Cederlind. Nick Gonzales relieved and doused the Flames the rest of the way.
“He helped us out a lot today,” said Cumberland. “His change-up was very good today.”
The Bulldogs tacked on single runs second, third and fourth and pushed across two in the fifth for the final margin.
“That’s going to be big for us,” said Temple, “especially because we struggled with that during league.”
The Jaguars, meanwhile, showed their potential with a gritty performance in which they battled back from an 8-0 deficit and brought the winning run to the plate in the seventh inning.
“That’s a tribute to Coach (Rob) Steves, his staff and his players,” said St. Mary’s coach Rob Selna. “That’s the way Coach Steves coaches; we expected that.”
The Jaguars finally got on the board in the fifth inning. With one out, Gregori pushed across five runs on an RBI single by Roberto Flores, a bases-loaded walk by Todd Stewart, a groundout by Dominic Carrillo and a two-run single from Johnny Altstatt.
An inning later, the Jags put runners on second and third, but were unable to get them home.
Then, in the seventh, Gregori loaded the bases and brought the winning run to the plate, but closer Alex Patterson fanned Andrew Urrutia – the first time a Gregori batter struck out all day – to end the game.
“We’re way past moral victories, but they had to go get their guy late in the game,” said Steves. “This could’ve been a really bad game, but we didn’t let it.”
Selna didn’t want to have to bring in Patterson – who double’s as the staff ace – up by eight, but it beat the alternative.
“I really didn’t want to, but this is (essentially) a Game 7,” said Selna. “The last thing I wanted was to lose the game with our best pitcher in the bullpen.”
After threatening in the first, with two runners aboard and one out, the Rams opened the scoring with a pair of runs in the second. Jed Sprague singled with one out, as did Evan Fagundes, whose shot to center was misplayed for a two-base error and plating Sprague.
Fagundes came home when No. 9 hitter Francisco Prado delivered a sacrifice fly to left.
St. Mary’s tacked on another in the third, using a swinging bunt and two perfectly placed bunts to push across a run.
The Rams chased starter Jeff Gray in the fourth. Nick Uota drilled a leadoff double to the gap in left-center and, after a groundout, scored on a single through the right side by Scot Michaels. Jonathan Keith followed with a double over the head of left fielder Jeff Cox and that finished Gray.
Anthony Dugo came on and gave up a two-run single to Fagundes, making 6-0, and then uncorked a wild pitch that produced run No. 7 for the Rams.
Bee staff writer Joe Cortez can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2380. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeePreps.