Tyler Orique slammed his helmet into the dirt along the base line, perhaps signaling the end of an era at Beyer High.
With a 2-1 loss to El Capitan in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South tournament, the Patriots coaching staff went into damage control, comforting eight seniors with four years invested into the program.
A season that began with promise of a deep playoff run came to a screeching halt in the opening round. A team blessed with experience was overmatched by the new kid of the block.
“Every year, you have a notion of who is coming back,” Beyer coach Dom Duran said. “You know what kind of team you have coming back. With this amount of starters missing, it’s going to be a brand new team next year because they did take up so many spots. It’s going to be interesting with all the opportunities my juniors will get. We’re going to look brand new next year.”
That Gauchos know that feeling.
Merced’s youngest high school arrived with little buzz.
El Capitan advanced to the Division IV final a year ago, but stumbled through its first season in the Central California Conference, finishing the regular season with nearly as many wins (14) as losses (12).
But in an elimination game, El Capitan had the goods to knock out the Patriots, a fixture at the University of the Pacific’s Klein Family Field, the site of the tournament’s double-elimination games.
Touted senior Sai Davuluri twirled a three-hit masterpiece and Chase Minor drove in the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh inning as the Gauchos punched their ticket to Pacific. There, they’ll face the tournament’s top seed and reigning champion on Thursday evening: Tracy, the Tri-City Athletic League kingpin.
“Last year really helped us. We got to the section title game. It wasn’t D-I, but we kind of knew what we could do,” said Davuluri, who improved to 7-1 and lowered his 0.26 ERA. “The whole sense of doing it last year – getting to a title game and losing – we had that in the back of our minds. That propelled us through to the playoffs and here.
“We got a clutch win against Pitman (the CCC co-champion). It all started there. It was the right time to get hot.”
How hot were Davuluri and the Gauchos?
Beyer had a week to scout the CCC’s third-place finisher and was still stumped.
Davuluri was brilliant in his Division I playoff debut. The Dartmouth-bound ace gave up one unearned run on three hits, and he struck out eight. He baffled a Beyer lineup that sizzled down the stretch in the Modesto Metro Conference.
Chase Fetzer had a lead-off single in the fourth, and Josh Escobar gave Beyer hope in the seventh with a single.
Other than that, the scoring opportunities were scarce against Davuluri, who added to the drama in the seventh inning with just his fourth walk in 61 innings.
“We had just three hits, and the only time we got anybody on was when they booted the ball or a very rare walk,” Duran said. “We flat-out just didn’t get the job done.”
Orique was attached to the highs and lows of the Patriots’ short-lived playoff appearance. He smacked an RBI double in the fifth inning, tying the game at 1-1. In the bottom of the seventh, Orique again made good contact, but his stinger was snared by Ward, the Gauchos’ Washington-bound shortstop.
Duran didn’t hide his disappointment. He believed his team could contend for a section final, especially with a strong senior nucleus that included: Fetzer, headed to George Fox University; Escobar, a Pacific College pitching prospect; outfielder and lead-off hitter Trevor Ravelli; and Orique, a slick-fielding shortstop, among others.
“We know just how much we’re capable of. It’s not necessarily getting the hits. It’s creating the opportunities. A lot of time we left the bat on our shoulders … way too many called third strikes,” Duran said. “Today, their pitcher kept us off-balanced. He did a great job of changing speeds, and our guys were still guessing the second and third time through the lineup. Some of our better hitters were still on their front foot. We weren’t prepared.”