It all comes down to this: Two teams vying for one playoff spot on the final day of the regular season.
The Modesto High School baseball team still holds the advantage in the race for the Modesto Metro Conference’s last invitation to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South tournament, but Downey, once 1-10, has closed the gap.
The Panthers need only to beat Beyer Friday to clinch their first postseason berth in 17 years, but the baseball gods have suddenly turned on coach Daryl Galloway’s young squad.
I feel that Tyler gives us our best chance to steal a win from a very good Beyer team. My team is pretty resilient and they’ll bounce back.
Daryl Galloway, Modesto High baseball coach, on junior ace Tyler Shafer
Victimized by passed balls, wild pitches and errors, the Panthers lost their third straight game and second overall to the Patriots on Wednesday at Streeter Field. The final score, painfully: Beyer 13, Modesto 3.
The Panthers (12-13, 8-9) were burned by six walks, five errors, four wild pitches and two passed balls.
“Not going to win too many games with that kind of defense,” Galloway said. “Our offense showed up with some pretty good at-bats and some timely hitting, but Beyer’s defense was outstanding and squashed any rally we started. Our defense was ‘JV-ish’ at best.”
Trevor Ravelli and Ben Polack combined on the five-inning victory, and Tyler Orique came out of his slump with three hits and two RBIs as Beyer continued its surge.
In his junior season, Polack has become a versatile weapon. The left-hander and three-sport athlete (football, basketball, baseball) has batted at both ends of the lineup, roamed the outfield and will likely be used in relief in the postseason.
“He’s gotten better and better with every game,” Duran said. “He’s going to be fun to watch.”
The Patriots (17-9, 14-3) have won eight consecutive league games and looked the part of a section title contender, plating 12 runs in the fourth and fifth innings to induce the mercy rule. Coach Dom Duran understands the desperation in Modesto’s dugout, but he’ll show them no mercy Friday in the series finale.
8 The number of consecutive league wins for Beyer.
Simply, if Modesto expects to be a playoff team, it will have to earn it between the lines. The Panthers will turn to Tyler Shafer, hoping the junior ace can deliver a historic performance on the road.
In his last start, Shafer and the Panthers were within an out of clinching a sweep and postseason berth against Enochs when everything went sideways. The Eagles scored five runs in the top of the seventh inning, highlighted by a grand slam by James Davis, and won 11-9.
“I feel that Tyler gives us our best chance to steal a win from a very good Beyer team,” Galloway said. “My team is pretty resilient, and they’ll bounce back.”
Beyer will counter with Josh Escobar, the reigning conference Pitcher of the Year.
“We need to keep up the intensity,” Duran said. “This is good baseball. Coach Galloway has done a great job with those kids. They can hit the ball. The second and third (time) through the lineup, they were squaring every ball up. Trevor challenged them, because that’s what we asked of him.
“We like this, and I recognize that they (Modesto) like this, too. It was a battle.”
Modesto has no margin for error, a position created by the Knights.
Downey stumbled out of the gates against a loaded schedule. The Knights absorbed losses to Escalon and Manteca and then were swept by Gregori and Beyer to start league.
The poor start served as a blessing.
Downey co-coach Justin Schwitters said the senior-laden team has played without pressure or expectation for the last six weeks, and the wins have followed. With Wednesday’s 6-3 victory over Davis, the Knights (10-16, 8-9) have won four consecutive series and sit just one game back of the Panthers.
Senior Brett Neves will make his second start of the week on Friday when Downey travels to Davis. The Knights need a victory and Modesto loss to clinch a postseason berth. Neves only threw 22 pitches on Monday before leaving with a 12-0 lead.
Zac Cooper was 1 for 3 with two runs and two RBIs, Zach Cruz collected two hits and Isaiah Oliver earned the win with three innings of scoreless relief.
“He came in and calmed us,” Schwitters said. “High school sports are so big on momentum. Davis had gotten a little life back and we needed to ease the tide somehow. That’s what he did. It helped us get the ‘W’ today.”
If Downey can complete the sweep on Friday and Modesto falters, the Knights – not the Panthers – would advance to the section tournament by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker. Downey took two of three from the Panthers in March.
Senior ace Brett Neves will start for the second time this week. He only threw 22 pitches before he was pulled from Monday’s game with a 12-0 lead.
Enochs (12-14) is also 8-9, but was eliminated from postseason contention with Wednesday’s 7-1 loss at Gregori (25-0, 17-0). Modesto and Downey own the tiebreaker over the Eagles, who have lost nine of their last 11 league games.
“It’s crazy,” Schwitters said. “We have a shot, so it’s like, ‘Let’s make the best of this opportunity.’ Taking the series from both (Modesto and Enochs) was big. We’re playing good baseball right now. We feel pretty good about everything.”