STOCKTON — For the third time this week, the Turlock High School baseball team vans pulled into school lots late Thursday night with trip odometers reading 102 miles.
That’s the round-trip distance from the Turlock campus to Klein Family Field on the University of the Pacific campus, where the Bulldogs played three times in four days since Monday.
Thursday’s trip was also the last of the season, as the weary squad was ambushed by St. Mary’s 12-0 in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South elimination game.
Yes, this was the same St. Mary’s team that Turlock beat 13-8 on Monday, roughly 250 miles ago, in what would become the final win for the Bulldogs (23-7).
Two nights later, Turlock would score once, in the second inning of a 2-1 loss to Tokay, and not again, finishing the season with 10 consecutive scoreless innings.
Bulldogs’ coach Mark de la Motte was not about to put team weariness anywhere near the top of the list of things that caused Turlock’s season to come to such a crushing end.
Atop the list certainly had to be the flawless play of the Rams (18-13) and junior pitcher Evan Fagundes, who stifled the Bulldogs on three hits while collecting three singles of his own.
But being on the road three out of four days certainly didn’t help the Turlock cause. Add to that the deflation of Wednesday’s loss to Tokay and you have the recipe for the Bulldogs’ letdown against a suddenly hot St. Mary’s team.
“They were a little shell-shocked after last night, and when we got here I could tell they were tired,” said Turlock coach Mark de la Motte. “The guys were sleeping in the vans on the way here. They woke up and they battled, but you just have to give the credit to St. Mary’s for getting it done.
“We’re not complaining about the travel, because a lot of teams would love to be able to do that. But it does wear on you. On the other hand, had we won the Tokay game, we would have had today off.”
Turlock starter Nick Gonzales ran into immediate trouble, walking the first batter he faced and hitting the second to fuel a three-run St. Mary’s first inning.
The Rams added two runs in the second on three hits, plated two in the third and put the game into the five-inning, 10-run mercy rule with a five-run fifth that included the last three of Turlock’s five errors.
But actually, the game might have been done after the first inning, since Turlock just didn’t look comfortable at the plate against Fagundes, who topped out speed-wise at only 81 mph on the stadium gun and worked in the 75-77 range.
“We hit a lot of balls in the air, which we did a lot early in the season,” de la Motte said. “Teams cut guys who hit fly balls. You have to hit line drives and ground balls.”
Fagundes allowed only a triple to Brett Cumberland in the third, and a double to Austin Bush and single by Nick Benson in the fourth. Even then, the Bulldogs were snake-bit, as Cody Cornell followed Benson’s single with a rocket to second base that was turned into an inning-ending double play.
“It was a very good time for us to stop hitting – in our last two games,” de la Motte said. “But give St. Mary’s credit. I’m so proud of these guys. Our seniors won four championships and they’re all great students who are going on to play.”