The St. Mary’s baseball team might not be the powerhouse of previous years, but one constant remains: The Rams are tough to beat at Klein Family Field.
A perennial contender in the Sac-Joaquin Section’s Division I South, No. 3 St. Mary’s advanced to the double-elimination portion of the tournament with a convincing 15-4 victory over No. 6 Turlock on Wednesday afternoon.
The Rams erupted for eight runs in the first inning, showing remarkable discipline and patience as Turlock searched for the strike zone, and never looked back.
Ramil Pinzon tripled and drove in five runs, Chandler Sanguinetti had two doubles and three RBI, and Ryan Quijalvo drove in three for the Rams (18-9), who induced the 10-run mercy rule with a seven-run third inning.
Turlock coach Mark de la Motte downplayed the Rams’ playoff mystique, but acknowledged the butterflies that bounced around his dugout at the start of the game. The Bulldogs’ all-underclassmen infield committed three errors, including two in the first inning.
St. Mary’s (18-9) has represented the South in eight of the last 10 Division I finals, including seven straight from 2009 to 2015. Top-seeded Tracy interrupted the dynasty last season and returns as the prohibitive favorite after winning the Tri-City Athletic League, but good luck telling the Bulldogs that.
“We were a little shaky,” de la Motte said, “but we’re used to being here. That’s why we bring up a lot of sophomores. Hopefully they see what’s going and want to get back here and do something good for themselves next year.”
A season chock full of promise came off the rails in the final two weeks.
Turlock (18-8) was swept by crosstown rival Pitman, forfeiting the outright Central California Conference title and conference’s No. 1 seed. In the first game of the series, University of Arizona-bound slugger Tate Soderstrom was lost for the season with a severely strained hamstring.
The Bulldogs showed their resolve in a 3-2 victory over Tokay in the first round of the Division I South tournament, but there was little left in the tank for the Rams, who demanded Turlock’s best.
Bulldog starter Cameron Martin didn’t last long. He walked four, gave up four runs on two hits, and was lifted after just eight batters in favor of senior Kayleb Becerra.
“It was a case of nerves early. We just couldn’t get out of the first inning,” de la Motte said. “Cameron hasn’t blown up like that all year long. We couldn’t get our guy hot, so we brought in our left fielder.”
St. Mary’s bats stayed hot against the left-handed Becerra.
Pinzon, batting in the ninth hole, drove a bases-clearing triple into the gap in right-center field to make it 7-0. Sanguinetti followed with a sacrifice fly as the Rams took the drama out of the elimination game.
Becerra got a small measure of redemption in the second inning, lacing a three-run triple of his own. Justin Hines and Tyler Etharidge had back-to-back singles to lead off the frame, and Casey Carr drew a walk to load the bases.
All three scored on Becerra’s extra-base hit to make it 8-3.
Mason King had an RBI single for Turlock. He drove in Alex Garcia, who led off the fourth with a triple down the left-field line.
King and Garcia are part of a promising future for the Bulldogs. King was one of three sophomores to start Wednesday’s game, including: Carr, thrust into the lineup because of Soderstrom’s injury; and Hines, who started the second inning rally.
De la Motte also started freshman Tyler Soderstrom at third and juniors Case Pacheco (catcher) and Etharidge (designated hitter), and carried four juniors and five sophomores on his bench.
“We can come back here next year, compete and win this thing if we play the way we’re capable of playing,” de la Motte said. “We’ve improved tremendously over the year and next year they’ll know what to expect. We’ll be pretty solid next year.”