The word is out: Forget about the Modesto Metro Conference, the Gregori High baseball team is one of the best in the state.
That bears repeating: In. The. State.
The Jaguars (25-0, 17-0) clinched their first outright conference title with Monday’s 12-0 victory over Enochs, a team in the hunt for the MMC’s third and final playoff berth, and debuted at No. 15 in last week’s Cal-Hi Sports state poll.
Today, they’ve climbed six spots to No. 9, the highest ranked team in the section.
Gregori, which closes the season with road games at Enochs on Friday and Bear Creek on Wednesday, is described as an “increasingly intriguing club” by Cal-Hi Sports editor Mark Tennis, who vaulted the Jaguars into his top-10 after a three-game sweep of Johansen.
Added Tennis: “Before the playoffs start, the Jaguars could have a good test next week against Bear Creek of Stockton, as the Bruins are undefeated in the San Joaquin Athletic Association. Knowing the history of the south part of the (Sac-Joaquin Section) like we do, it might be a good idea, no matter what the win-loss record for Gregori stands, for the team to avoid perennial power St. Mary’s of Stockton.”
He’s right, of course.
The Jaguars won’t be defined by their record, as impressive as it is, but how they perform in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South tournament.
St. Mary’s has advanced to the final series in eight of the last 10 years, winning three straight titles from 2010-13. The Rams’ four section titles are the most by any Division I program south of Elk Grove.
Tracy broke through last season, losing to Elk Grove in three games.
No Stanislaus District team has advanced to the final since Buhach Colony in 2008. The last district team to win a D-I banner was Merced in 2002.
“Our kids know there are a lot of hills to climb, so this was another (row) to hoe,” Gregori coach Jim Davis said after his team clinched the outright MMC crown. “But it’s something new, something we have never done before.
“At the end of the day, you’re trying to get to a point where you’re playing your best baseball going into the playoffs. We know we’re a playoff team. We know we’re the No. 1 seed from the MMC, and hopefully, that comes with a first-round bye. We feel that’s the direction we’re headed.”
While we wait, here’s another interesting talking point: A look at some of the district’s top performers heading into “the second season.”
Keep in mind, this watch list isn’t absolute, and I reserve the right to adjust my selections. Feel free to share your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MVP: No doubt, Gregori has come this far because of its balance and pitching depth, but individually, senior Matt Dallas is having a special season. The reigning Modesto Metro Conference MVP is second in the Sac-Joaquin Section in hits (44), boasts a .543 batting average and catches a starting staff that is 15-0. He’s also 8-0 with five complete games.
Gold Glove: When Santiago Cantu (.400 batting average, 10 stolen bases) walks onto a diamond, people take notice of the Patterson star, probably because his walk is more like a strut. There is a style and confidence to his game that few in the area possess. The reigning All-District Player of the Year can make every play from the shortstop hole, and to see him field and throw on the run is worth the price of admission.
Newcomer of the Year I: Dallin Tilby was a year away from being Turlock’s ace, but Damon Treadwell’s season-ending elbow injury fast-tracked his place in the spotlight. A cagey three-sport athlete, Tilby has kept the Bulldogs in the hunt for a Central California Conference crown. He is 5-0 in seven starts with two complete games.
Newcomer of the Year II: To the part-time baseball fan, Gregori starter Julian Favela seemingly appeared out of nowhere this spring. In truth, the Enochs High transfer has been making waves on the travel ball circuit for years. He just wasn’t eligible to play high school baseball. Until this season. The junior has allowed just one run in 41-plus innings; he’s 6-0 with a 0.17 ERA.
Most Improved: Parker Cosby’s ability to control a game from behind the plate made him an invaluable asset for Escalon coach Greg Largent, but his bat was a liability and often led to pinch-hit opportunities for others. Not this year. Cosby has turned himself into a middle-of-the-lineup monster. He’s hitting .426 with 29 hits and 15 RBIs.
Pitcher of the Year: You could make a strong case for any of Gregori’s starters, but senior A.J. MacCaughtry gets the nod for the one measurable that can’t be debated: wins. MacCaughtry, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound right-hander, is tied for the section lead in victories with nine. He’s gone the distance four times and has struck out 65 batters in 48-plus innings.
Freshman of the Year: With Bulldog blood coursing through his veins – his father Brett is football coach, while mother Angela led the softball team to a section title last spring – Dalton Durossette added a new feat to the family lore at Ceres. The freshman pitcher tossed a no-hitter on March 21 against Livingston. He’s also hitting .429 for the playoff-bound ’Dogs.
Sophomore of the Year: In his second varsity season, Los Banos’ Kody Cardoza, a tall right-hander, has cemented his place atop the rotation for the Western Athletic Conference champions.
Junior of the Year: The Modesto Metro’s top defender last spring, Enochs High’s Chris Butterfield’s offensive game has developed in his junior season. “Butters” leads the conference in home runs with four and sported a .389 average entering play Wednesday. His homers have been timely, too. He forced extra innings with Beyer with a two-run blast in the seventh inning, and then went long in victories over Downey and Modesto.
Seniors of the Year: Bryce Kirk of Oakdale and Tate Soderstrom of Turlock have traveled similar paths this season. Kirk is hitting .387 with four home runs for the Mustangs. The Arizona-bound Soderstrom has been described as “man amongst boys” by coach Mark de la Motte because of production like this: .357 batting average, 11 extra-base hits, and a .983 fielding percentage at first base.