SACRAMENTO -- After winning the school's first Sac-Joaquin Section title a year ago, this season's Oakdale High baseball team dealt with considerable pressure.
With several players returning from that team, they were expected to win it all again.
And when they won the Division IV title Monday afternoon, they celebrated just like it was their first, with a massive dog pile in front of the pitcher's mound as their coaches watched at Sacramento City College's Union Stadium.
Junior left-hander Justin Jones went the distance for the Mustangs, striking out 10 while allowing four hits in Oakdale's 4-0 victory over Valley Oak League rival East Union. And while Lancers left-hander Trae Lopez limited the Mustangs' powerful lineup to just five hits, Oakdale manufactured runs with its speed.
"We've dealt with that pressure for the entire season," Oakdale coach Hondo Arpoika said. "We've been the favorite since the beginning."
But Arpoika said it wasn't like Monday's victory lifted a heavy load. Instead ...
"It feels so good," he said.
The teams met twice during VOL play with the Mustangs beating East Union 10-0 and 11-0, both games ending in five innings. But this game was different from the start.
"This was a different team," East Union coach Dan Triglia said of his own club. "We improved so much throughout the year, and we were playing at our best in the postseason."
The Lancers put runners on first and third with one out in the second inning, threatening to score the first run. But Steven Weddington was caught attempting to steal second, and Jones struck out Ryan Dawson to end the inning.
Jones scored the first run in the bottom of the second when he reached on an infield single, moved to third on consecutive wild pitches and scored on a double steal.
The Mustangs scored twice in the third when, with one out, Lopez hit three consecutive batters to load the bases. Nick VanderTuig plated Bryce Gerhardt with a sacrifice fly, and Eddie McGrath drew a based-loaded walk for a 3-0 lead.
Dante Major scored the final run when he singled, went to third on two wild pitches and scored on Wagner's single. The way Jones was pitching, the first run would prove to be enough.
"He was outstanding," Triglia said. "He's definitely the best pitcher we've seen this season. And he was throwing very well."
Jones struck out two in the seventh, then watched as EU's John Campa lined out to Major at third. Facing the Lancers for the third time this season didn't seem to faze the Mustangs.
"We just went out there and played," Jones said. "We knew East Union had a lot of pop in their bats. I kept pitching, and my defense made plays behind me."
And it ended the same way it did last season, with a pile of Mustangs celebrating a section title in the infield.
"This one is indescribable," Jones said. "Last year, I was the DH, but to be on the mound was something else. We were all pretty close before the season began. But we've really formed a bond. I'll always remember this one."
Several seniors from last year's team were on hand for the victory. They grabbed players and coaches in hugs after the celebration.
"That's the best thing about being at Oakdale," Arpoika said. "Last year was special, because it was the first. This year's group pushed those kids, and now they're here. To see players from last year's team out here, it's just a great feeling.
"We have a great community, and we get great support. And the kids worked so hard to get this. What a feeling."
Bee staff writer Will DeBoard can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.