The kite darting and diving beyond the fence wasn’t the only thing dancing in the wind on Friday at Dick Windemuth Field.
Routine flies became an adventure for the Enochs and Downey baseball teams, leaving bodies twisted and turned and the scoreboard in constant flux.
Perhaps it was a taste of things to come in the Modesto Metro Conference, which enters the final three weeks of the season with five teams fighting for three playoff seeds.
With Friday’s wind-whipped 20-8 victory, the young Knights remain a threat heading into their bye week.
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We’re still trying to turn the corner as a baseball program, and Enochs was a team that we had our sights set on early in the season.
Jeremy Plaa, Downey coach
“We’re just playing one game at a time,” Downey coach Jeremy Plaa said. “We’re still trying to turn the corner as a baseball program, and Enochs was a team that we had our sights set on early in the season.”
Zach Cooper and Brett Neves led the offensive assault, providing the big at-bats in a decisive 15-run fourth inning.
Cooper drove in four runs, including three in the fourth. He had an RBI single and a two-run double.
Trailing 8-5, Neves started the flurry with an RBI double and later tacked on a sacrifice fly as Downey climbed back to .500 in conference.
More importantly, the Knights remain in the hunt for a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South playoff berth.
At 8-1, idle Beyer (11-3) is the favorite to defend its MMC title. After the Patriots, though, it’s anyone guess.
Gregori (12-6, 6-3), Enochs (11-9, 8-4), Modesto (7-10-1, 5-4) and Downey (8-13, 6-6) all have a shot.
Enochs began the week with thinning championship hopes. Three games later, the Eagles find themselves in a tailspin.
Since starting conference play 7-0, Enochs has lost four of its last five, including consecutive Friday blowouts to Beyer and Downey.
Jordan Davidson was a bright spot. The Eagles’ designated hitter was 4 for 4 with a double, triple and three RBIs.
With six losses entering the game and a chance to steal a series against a team above them in the standings, the Knights turned the rubber match into a mercy-rule victory. The game was called after five innings.
When the season began, Plaa hoped a roster with nine juniors, one sophomore and just four seniors would develop into a team that could challenge an established power like Enochs.
With nine juniors and one sophomore on the roster, Downey baseball coach Jeremy Plaa credits his staff for the team’s playoff push. Plaa is assisted by Chuck Hamilton, Will Brown and Justin Schwitters.
“I’m excited for our boys. They’ve been working really hard and getting coached every single game and every single practice,” Plaa said. “Taking two from Enochs is a really big deal for us.”
In the dugout, he balanced the smiles and high-fives with a word of warning. Downey closes the season with series against Davis and Gregori, but its most important battle is complacency.
“We can’t take Davis lightly,” Plaa said. “I just told our kids we have to guard against a letdown in practice next week. We have to practice hard. If we can beat Davis in all three then we can start looking at Gregori, but even then we’ve got to take it one game a time.”
Early on, momentum swung back and forth, as if powered by the huge gusts that blew across the field.
Downey struck first with five runs on four hits in the first inning, including an RBI triple by Luis Bustos. The Knights took advantage of Tanner Sheer’s early control issues. Sheers forced in two runs when he plunked Cooper and Tyler Foote to make it 5-0.
Enochs wouldn’t panic. Not with a favorable wind at their back.
The Eagles vaulted into the lead with eight unanswered runs over the first three innings.
Davidson ignited a three-run first inning, driving home Eli Martinez with a fly ball to right-center. Adrian Gonzales followed with a double past the diving left fielder and Chris Butterfield made it 5-3 with a single.
Enochs tied the game at 5-5 in the second inning on back-to-back hits by Kyle Fulbright and Davidson. Fulbright singled to right to plate Sheers, who led off with a walk.
Davidson followed with an RBI triple into the left-center gap to make it 5-5.
Daniel Roberts (two-run double) and Davidson also drove in runs in the third inning to give Enochs a momentary 8-5 lead.
15 Runs scored by Downey in the fourth inning of Friday’s 20-8 victory over Enochs
The Knights answered with 15 runs in the fourth. Neves drove in two runs with an RBI double and a sacrifice fly, while Jimmy Calvillo and Cooper had two-run doubles in the breakout frame.
Anthony Rodriguez also had a two-run single as Downey forced Enochs to reach deep into its bullpen. The Eagles needed four pitchers to get out of the inning.
“Even at the end of the game, even though we’re up 12, we’re still trying to bunt the runner over for one more run because we know these guys (Enochs) got bats,” Plaa said. “They hit the ball as good as anybody we’ve played all season.”