The word hasn’t been used much in Daryl Galloway’s 12 seasons as the varsity baseball coach at Modesto High, but it has been bandied about in team huddles the last few weeks.
Long an afterthought in the Modesto Metro Conference, the Panthers, questing toward their first playoff berth in nearly two decades, want to be remembered.
They’ve left a lasting impression on Enochs, taking the first two games of their pivotal three-game series in impressive fashion.
We’ve explained the toughest thing to do in any sport is beat a team three times in a row. We want to get it done, so we’re going after it.
Daryl Galloway, Modesto High baseball coach
Modesto has looked very much like a team poised for the postseason, separating from the Eagles with pitching, timely hitting and sound defense.
All three phases were on display in Wednesday’s 2-0 victory at Enochs. Trent Prokes tossed a complete-game one-hitter, R.J. Soria smacked a two-run single, and Modesto put itself in position for the sweep.
Soria closed the game with a redemptive play in the field. After bobbling a slow grounder, Soria gloved a one-hopper on top of the third-base bag and popped to his feet in time to get the runner.
“Great stab,” Galloway said of Soria, whose error on a slow grounder allowed the previous batter to reach.
Modesto is closing in on its first playoff berth since 2000.
With a victory on Friday, the Panthers (12-11, 9-5) can eliminate Downey (8-16, 6-9) from the playoff picture and open a three-game cushion on the Eagles (11-12, 7-7) with three games left.
Modesto and Enochs entered the series tied at 7-5 and jockeying for the conference’s third and final playoff seed.
“We had a tough stretch a little earlier in the league season, but the kids rallied together and said they don’t want to be remembered by how they played in the first few weeks,” Galloway said. “They came to terms with it and have moved on. They want to be remembered for the good play, so they’ve worked hard to continued it.”
Modesto closes the season with two-time defending champion Beyer (12-9, 9-3), currently second in the standings, while free-falling Enochs wraps the regular season with Gregori (22-0, 14-0).
The front-running Jaguars are the only unbeaten team in the Sac-Joaquin Section.
In complete control of the series, Galloway spent the moments after Wednesday’s victory emphasizing the importance of a sweep.
Modesto will throw junior Tyler Shafer, a second-year varsity player seemingly born on the sandlot.
Shafer plays baseball year-round and is rarely without glove. He is 3-3 with a 1.56 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 40-plus innings, but is 0-2 in his last two starts.
Galloway isn’t concerned.
“I think we’re set up pretty well on Friday,” Galloway said. “We have Tyler Shafer going and he’s been the most consistent. We feel good about the pitching staff.
“He loves baseball. He eats and sleeps and lives for baseball. He’s always talking to me about the game, even in the offseason. He just wants to play and do well. He loves the game.”
He’ll have a tough act to follow.
For the second time in the series, Modesto carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning.
On Monday, Carlos Castillo dazzled. He went the distance, fanning 10 in his second complete game of the season.
Prokes was even better on the road, surrendering just one hit over seven innings. The sophomore faced just three batters over the minimum, struck out eight and now leads the staff with two shutouts.
“Both guys have a lot of heart. The pitching has just been outstanding,” Galloway said. “Trent pitched a gem. He’s had a few hiccups, but his last two league starts have been really good. He did a great job against Gregori and he was masterful today. It was nice to see.”
Prokes’ performance overshadowed Tanner Shears’ outing. The Enochs ace blanked the Panthers over the final six innings, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a shaky start.
Shears (six strikeouts) walked the first two batters of the game – sophomore Evan Klump and Prokes. Both runners moved into scoring position on a passed ball, and scored on Soria’s base hit.
Modesto led 2-0 before there was an out.
“It’s been four great pitching performances,” Galloway said. “Unfortunately, somebody had to lose.”
Soria ensured the victory with a web gem to close the game. The sophomore ranged to his right, snaring a rocket shot down the line. He found his feet and whipped a throw across the diamond.
“We’ve explained the toughest thing to do in any sport is beat a team three times in a row,” Galloway said. “We want to get it done, so we’re going after it.
“We still feel like Friday is a must-win game for us. That’s the way we’re treating all of these games. They’re all must-wins. It’s not going to get any easier.”
At a glance
What: Enochs (11-12, 7-5) at Modesto (12-11, 9-5)
When: Friday, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Streeter Field, Modesto High
At stake: The Panthers will go for the series sweep, which will eliminate Downey from playoff contention and give them a three-game cushion on Enochs with three to play.