It was Jackie Robinson Day in the major leagues on Tuesday, and all MLB players wore number 42 in honor of the man who broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947.
Gregori High shortstop Tyler Janitz paid tribute to Robinson in his own way, hanging a replica Jackie Robinson T-shirt in the Jaguars’ dugout during their Modesto Metro Conference showdown with Enochs.
Seems appropriate, because this was a spirited game that Robinson would’ve been pleased to watch. Oh, it may not have been the most aesthetically pleasing game, but two teams gave everything they had for more than three hours.
Just like Robinson used to.
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In the end, Gregori came away with a hard-fought, 12-9 victory in the opener of this two-game series that could decide the conference title.
The Jags improve to 8-1 in league action while the Eagles drop to 7-2. Enochs, essentially, faces a must-win situation. If the Gregori goes two up with two to play, it’s all but over.
Jeff Gray, who got the final four outs for the save Tuesday, will start Thursday. Enochs will counter with sophomore C.J. Hackett.
“I don’t know where to start,” said Gregori coach Rob Steves. “All I know is that I’m very proud of these guys. That’s a tough team over there and they never quit.”
Gregori jumped out to a 7-0 lead, chasing starter Trenton Hageman in the second inning. But just when it looked like the Jags could coast into the series finale, the Eagles came soaring back.
Gregori left-hander Todd Stewart, who breezed through the first three innings, allowed the first seven batters in the bottom of the fourth to reach base.
“They were hitting the ball pretty good,” said Stewart, who yielded a triple to Jacob Cooper-Steadman, a double to Michael McGhee and a single to Derek Badovinac to start the inning. “And then we had some trouble with that fielding play.”
With one out and the bases loaded, Daniel Quevedo hit a comebacker to Stewart, who had to come off the mound, and slightly to his right, to field the ball. His throw home was low and got past catcher Andrew Urrutia, allowing two runs to score.
After four runs were in, Stewart was pulled in favor of Justin Cox, who promptly walked the first batter he faced to load the bases. Cox then got a strikeout for the second out of the frame, but issued another walk to make it 7-5 before ending the inning with another punchout.
It was here that Enochs missed an opportunity to change the complexion of this game.
After batting for about 30 minutes in the bottom of the fourth, Eagles reliever Jake Cardinale came out for the fifth and mowed down the first two batters he faced on four pitches. With two strikes on No. 9 hitter Cox, Cardinale induced a grounder to short on just his eighth pitch of the inning. It seemed like a routine play, but the throw was wide of the bag, allowing Cox to reach safely. Leadoff man Hector Guerrero then walked on four straight pitches and Urrutia laced a single to center to give the Jags an 8-5 lead.
“No question about it, if we have a shutdown inning there it changes the momentum of the game,” said Enochs coach Chris Butterfield.
The miscue seemed to throw Cardinale off his game momentarily.
“I wasn’t really frustrated, but it took me out of my rhythm,” said Cardinale. “But you gotta work through it. You gotta move forward and turn the page.”
According to Cox, hitting with two strikes is something on which the Jags work routinely.
“We practice our two-strike approach … every … day,” said Cox, elongating the sentence for added emphasis. “I knew he was having a quick inning and I was just trying to see as many pitches as possible.”
The Jags then helped the Eagles get out of the fifth.
Looking to do further damage with runners on first and third and No. 3 hitter Janitz at the plate, Steves called for a delayed steal. Urrutia took off for second, and when the throw went down to second, Guerrero bolted for the plate. Second baseman Zack Beal took the throw and threw home to Butterfield. The throw was low, but Butterfield made a sensational scoop – hard to do with a catcher’s mitt – and blocked Guerrero from scoring.
“I keep a list of positive plays and negatives plays,” said Steves, producing a slip of paper from his back pocket. “Look … in the negative column. What does it say?”
Sure enough, the coach gave himself a demerit for taking the bat out of Janitz’s hands.
For the record, when Janitz returned to the box in led off the sixth, he led off with a single to ignite a three-run rally and make it 11-5.
But Enochs wasn’t finished. The Eagles chased both Anthony Dugo and Dennis Fasano – a three-run double by Badovinac was the big blow in a four-run rally – before Gray came on to close the door.
“I’m proud of our boys,” said Butterfield. “There was no quit in them. They were disgusted to be down 7-0, to a very good team. But we think we match up well with them.”
See you Thursday.