Mark de la Motte enjoys taking Turlock High baseball teams to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs, but he’s tired of coming home with a second-place plaque.
“We’ve got five of these now and it’s time that we win that pennant instead,” de la Motte said. “We were 23-9 last year, 24-8 this year. We didn’t have the dominant pitcher this season, but I think that our position players were stronger.”
That lack of an overpowering thrower caught up to Turlock this week, as it lost twice to potent St. Mary’s — the second a 14-4 loss in Saturday’s South championship game.
The Rams (22-9) knocked Turlock into the losers’ bracket with a 6-0 win Monday, but the Bulldogs beat Lincoln (9-3) and Merced (23-2) to earn a second shot at St. Mary’s.
Turlock starter Jeremy McDonald also got a second shot at the Rams, but with similar results to his earlier start. In his two starts, he allowed 14 runs, 12 hits, five walks and hit two batters in 7º innings.
“St. Mary’s has nine guys in the lineup that can swing the bat,” de la Motte said. “Jeremy didn’t have the velocity of Monday, but I felt that might give him more movement.”
Turlock led 2-1 heading into the bottom of the second, after an error and Ricky Fuentes’ RBI double led to two runs in the second, but St. Mary’s exploited McDonald’s in consistency to score seven runs and take an 8-2 lead after two.
McDonald walked one, gave up four hits and hit two batters in the second before giving way to Ryan Cumberland.
UCLA-bound Kevin Kramer, a shortstop by trade, was ready to throw an inning or two if Turlock got back in the game. It looked like it might happen when Kramer lofted a fly ball to deep center in the fifth, with two on, but it got hung up in the wind and was caught on the warning track.
Had it gone over, Turlock would have sliced St. Mary’s lead to 8-6. Instead, it scored only Ryan Brown from third — the final run of the season.
It was that kind of day for Kramer: A wicked liner was hit right at the first baseman and a high fly in the third got as far as the warning track before it got caught in the wind. It was a familiar finish for Kramer and his teammates.They lost to St. Mary’s a year ago in the section final, forcing a winner-take-all game after Vince Wheeland overpowered the Rams in the opener.
Turlock didn’t have a pitcher of Wheeland’s stature — he is now at Oklahoma State — and that’s what it was going to take to topple the Rams.
“I don’t think either of us is as good as last year, but they are still better than us,” de la Motte said. “Most teams have three, four ... maybe five guys who swing like they do. They have nine guys who do that.”
Turlock has been to the regional final five times. It won three of those, but fell short in each of the best-of-three section championship series.
The Bulldogs will need to rebuild to make a third consecutive trip to the regional final. They return three starters — third baseman Ryan Cumberland (.424, 33 RBIs), outfielder Tommy Evans (.258, 12) and designated hitter Brett Backlund (.444, 9 in just 27 at-bats) — as well as sophomore Nick Voumard (9-2, 1.88 ERA).
“We had a triple title, so we have quality kids coming up who are going to help us,” said de la Motte, whose program won Central California Conference titles at varsity, JV and freshman. “We’ll keep trying to win that pennant.”