Beyer High junior T.J. Wheeler never lost confidence in himself or the team.
Not when he got caught looking at a third strike, contributing to the Patriots’ mid-game malaise.
Not when his error in the field gave Oakdale late life, and certainly not when he blew the save, allowing the Mustangs to move within three out of an unlikely victory.
Wheeler had every reason to hang his head on Wednesday morning at the Mark Dickens Invitational.
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Instead, he gathered himself, funneled all of that frustration into his final at-bat, and hung a loss on the tournament host with one mighty swing.
Wheeler hit a two-run home run in the top of the seventh and then secured the 7-6 win with a clean bottom half. The game finished with Wheeler settling under an infield fly.
“I just do what I can control and go out there with confidence every time,” Wheeler said. “I just had to take a deep breath and get back out there.”
Beyer (12-9) played the game without skipper Dom Duran, who was serving a one-game penalty. Duran was ejected from the Patriots’ loss to Central Catholic on Monday.
Assistant Ryan Fahey stepped in, notching his first career victory in thrilling fashion.
The Patriots surged ahead on the strength of Andrew Enwiya, who had a solo home run in the second inning and a bases-clearing double in the third to make it 5-1. Tyler Orique also tripled and scored on Trevor Ravelli’s single.
Oakdale slowly reeled in Beyer, scoring three runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth to complete its comeback.
Cullen Bearden had an RBI double in the fifth, scoring Blake Whiting from second. Whiting reached on an error by Wheeler, who kicked the slow grounder.
With Ravelli tiring, Fahey turned to Wheeler in the sixth, but the Mustangs jumped in front 6-5 on a passed ball and sacrifice fly.
Due up in the top of the seventh, Wheeler didn’t stew on his troubles.
“He was able to turn the page,” Fahey said, “and that was the best part.”
Ravelli set the table with a leadoff walk. Following a strikeout, Wheeler dug into the batter’s box. The left-hander was sitting on an inside pitch.
When it came, Wheeler deposited the ball over the fence in right-center field.
“The last couple of innings, he came out and was a bulldog out there,” Fahey said. “He wanted the ball and he wanted to be at the plate to hit that game-winning, two-run home run.
“He had an error and a strikeout looking, but I kept him in the game. He proved to be the player of the game.”
Turlock 3, Beyer 1: Tyler Soderstrom drove in two runs and Bryce Lockermiller beat the Patriots for the second time in a month.
Lockermiller went six innings, giving up one run on four hits. He had five strikeouts. Kayleb Becerra picked up the save.
The Bulldogs pounded out 10 hits, including four doubles. In all, eight players collected at least one hit.
Aaron Haynes, Chris Steeley and Soderstrom led the way with two hits apiece.
Steeley scored twice. He doubled to lead off the fourth inning and trotted home two batters later on Soderstrom’s double into the right-center gap.
Steeley made it 3-1 in the sixth after lacing a one-out single. He stole second and raced home when Beyer had trouble fielding Soderstrom’s base hit.
Beyer had its opportunities.
The defense turned two double plays and Mason Fontana – along with Wheeler as the relay – gunned down a runner at home plate.
Yet, the offense couldn’t summon the big hit. The Patriots had runners at second and third with one out in the sixth, but failed to produce.