In the race for the Modesto Metro Conference’s third and final postseason berth, the pole is misleading.
The Modesto High baseball team sits in the driver’s seat, needing only one win to secure its first playoff appearance in nearly two decades.
But the team steering the race sits in the back of the pack – Downey High (9-16, 7-9), a program that has overcome a 1-10 start to put itself in the thick of the chase.
In baseball, people don’t like to jinx things. They’re big on superstition. I get the sense that the kids are going to enjoy themselves, knowing this is the last week we’re guaranteed.
Jeremy Plaa, Downey High baseball co-coach
The Knights don’t control their destiny, but they might have the easiest path to the Division I South tournament.
Downey will wrap up the regular season with two more games against Davis, a team it annihilated 16-3 in Monday’s series opener. The Spartans (4-20, 3-12) are the second-worst team in the MMC.
Downey is two games back of Modesto (12-13, 9-7), but owns the tiebreaker with the Panthers and Eagles (12-13, 8-8), another team in the hunt.
Since losing 10 of its first 11 games, Downey has won eight of the last 14, including series victories over Johansen, Modesto and Enochs.
“We’re playing good baseball and getting good pitching efforts and finally hitting the ball,” Downey co-coach Jeremy Plaa said. “We had a good showing in San Luis Obispo (for an Easter tournament). Even though we won just one game, our kids played good baseball.”
Meanwhile, across town, Modesto and Enochs find themselves fighting for wins against two teams that don’t lose often.
Modesto will continue its series with Beyer (15-9, 12-3), the two-time defending champion, on Wednesday at Streeter Field.
The Panthers were beaten 5-2 on Monday, but need just one win in the final two games to clinch the first postseason berth in coach Daryl Galloway’s 11 seasons.
Enochs, which began the week one game back of Modesto, has the toughest task of all – beating Gregori … twice. The Jaguars (24-0, 16-0) are the only unbeaten team in the section and debuted at No. 15 in the recent Cal-Hi Sports state poll.
Plaa understands the playoff scenarios, even if his players don’t. Downey has flown under the radar this season, and that anonymity has helped foster a blue-collar approach.
“I think they’re just enjoying each other’s company,” Plaa said. “They realize the season is winding down and they have an opportunity to do what Downey hasn’t done since 2011.
“I haven’t heard them talk about the playoffs or the postseason or anything like that. All we can control is to win out this week and hope things work out in the long run.”
Monday’s win was decided early. Downey exploded for seven runs in the first inning, showcasing a balanced attack, and led 16-0 before the Spartans scratched out three runs.
The Knights banged out 10 base hits. Eight players collected at least one hit, led by seniors Tyler Foote and Aaric Holt with two apiece. Seven players drove in at least one run.
Staked to an early lead, Plaa pulled ace Brett Neves after just 22 pitches. He’ll be available to start on Friday, a game that may ultimately decide the Knights’ postseason fate.
“We have some depth, but it’s always nice when your ace can go twice in a week,” Plaa said. “It worked out pretty good for us. In fact, things couldn’t gone better in terms of setting up the rest of the week.”
Downey will turn to senior Braden Plaa on Wednesday in the final home game of the season. He is 2-4 with a 4.38 ERA, but has won two of his last three appearances.
“In baseball, people don’t like to jinx things. They’re big on superstition,” coach Plaa said. “I get the sense that the kids are going to enjoy themselves, knowing this is the last week we’re guaranteed.”