Sometimes in baseball, even the good teams must tip their caps, pack the bats and fight another day.
The Ceres High Bulldogs (17-5) won three straight games to reach the title game of the Art McRae Lions Easter Tournament, the event they’ve conducted as hosts since 1996. An ideal script would have called for the home team to satisfy an encouraging crowd at the Ceres diamond.
Kimball of Tracy, however, had other ideas.
The Jaguars ended a busy but pleasing Thursday by defeating the Bulldogs 7-1 behind pitchers Ryan Rivera and Kenny McCarrell. Earlier, Kimball advanced to the title game by stopping Central Valley 10-3.
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“Give all the credit in the world to them (Kimball),” Ceres coach Clinton Goblirsch said. “They came out and hit the ball well.”
Ceres rode a seven-game winning streak into the finals, a run topped by tournament victories over Waterford, Modesto Christian and Johansen. Virtually the only team the Bulldogs haven’t handled this season is Western Athletic Conference leading Los Banos, which owns three wins over Ceres.
But Kimball right-handers Rivera and McCarrell, gifted with an early 4-0 lead, limited Ceres to only three hits, two by leadoff man Ismael Ontiveros.
3 Hits by Ceres in McRae title game
“We’ve been mixing good hitting and good pitching all season,” Goblirsch said. “They did a good job keeping us off-balance today.”
The slope-shouldered Rivera, soon to don shoulder pads on scholarship at West Point, fortified Kimball’s confidence. He went the first four innings and was touched for Ceres’ only run, thanks to a leadoff double by Zach Kommavong and Ontiveros’ solid two-out RBI single up the middle.
McCarrell was even more dominant. He retired nine of 10 – striking out four – and yielded one hit. The Jaguars celebrated after McCarrell’s strikeout of Ceres’ promising freshman Dalton Durossette.
“You couldn’t ask for much more from Rivera and McCarrell,” said Ted Muniz, the former Hayward policeman who’s now the Kimball head coach. “We’re very young but are starting to believe in ourselves. Ceres is very disciplined. It felt good to beat a good team.”
Kimball, aggressive early in the count, ignited on early-game sacrifice bunts by Matt McGowan and Rivera to set up four early runs. Ontiveros, the Ceres starter, was greeted in the first by Jacob Juarez’s double, Matt McGown’s bunt and Drew Riddick’s RBI double.
That began a big day for Riddick, the Kimball centerfielder, who went 3-for-4 and tacked on a two-run single in the sixth. He also figured in the Jaguars’ three-run third, which featured a ringing RBI double off the wall in center by freshman Dax Dibble.
Kimball walked away with the first-place plaque in an eight-team field. The finalists were undefeated in their respective pools. The event is named after the longtime Ceres coach who won 550 games.