Tate Soderstrom’s high school career came to an abrupt end halfway between the first and second base bags.
Turlock High’s Monster of Mash pulled up lame during the first game of the Pitman series last week, hobbled by a strained hamstring.
Just like that, his senior season was over, and the Bulldogs’ hopes of an outright Central California Conference were also dashed.
He worked really hard this year to prove himself, but now … Well, now he’s in the dugout watching game with us.
Mark de la Motte, Turlock High baseball coach, on injured senior Tate Soderstrom (hamstring)
Without the University of Arizona-bound slugger in the middle of the lineup, Turlock was swept by the Pride, outscored 9-4 in the two-game set.
“We feel really bad for him,” Turlock coach Mark de la Motte said. “He worked really hard this year to prove himself, but now …
“Well, now he’s in the dugout watching games with us.”
Turlock may have limped to the finish of the regular season, but it showed resolve in a 3-2 victory over Tokay in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South tournament.
The Bulldogs scored three runs in the first inning to back starter Dallin Tilby, who improved to 6-1. Tyler Soderstrom (double), Justin Hines and Case Pacheco all drove in runs, while Alex Garcia wiggled out of jam to earn the save.
It hasn’t been pretty baseball since Soderstrom’s injury, but de la Motte believes his young, patchwork club can still be a factor in the postseason.
“We do have a young team,” de la Motte said. “We’re playing one freshman and three sophomores, so we’re just happy to be playing anybody right now. The way we look at it: It’s an opportunity, not a curse.”
They’ll have to prove themselves against the premier Division I program in the southern half of the section.
Turlock (18-7) takes on No. 3 St. Mary’s of Stockton (17-9) on Wednesday at 4 p.m. at the University of the Pacific’s Klein Family Field.
The Rams finished second in the Tri-City Athletic League, behind top-seeded Tracy, but have represented the South in the D-I final eight of the last 10 years.
St. Mary’s was one of four teams to receive a first-round bye. The others include No. 1 Tracy, No. 2 Gregori and No. 4 Bear Creek.
Gregori (26-1) will play No. 7 Lodi (16-12) in the nightcap on Wednesday at 7.
Bear Creek (20-8) and No. 5 Pitman (18-9) will play at 4 p.m. on Thursday, while No. 9 El Capitan (14-12) draws Tracy at 7.
The spreads on Wednesday and Thursday might be closer than you imagine, de la Motte said.
“The good thing about the (first round) game, it puts us back on a regular schedule, playing every other day,” de la Motte said. “It’s tough being off for seven or eight days and being sharp hitting, especially when you’re used to seeing live pitching every other day.
“That’s the disadvantage for teams that have the bye. It’s tough to stay sharp.”
Turlock would be in even better shape with Tate Soderstrom, a third-year varsity player.
Soderstrom was leading the Bulldogs’ in runs (24), hits (26) and doubles (eight) when he strained his hamstring. He is second on the team in batting average (.361), RBIs (16) and triples (two).
“He’s back to walking normally, but that’s it,” de la Motte said.
While Soderstrom’s injury is devastating, Turlock has been down this road before.
The Bulldogs had to adjust their starting rotation when senior ace Damon Treadwell had season-ending Tommy John surgery in March.
His absence forced de la Motte and his coaching staff to fast-track the development of the rest of the staff. More would be asked of Tilby, the new No. 1, and senior Cameron Martin (5-2, 1.50 ERA), who will start Wednesday’s elimination game.
Like Tilby and Martin, more will be asked of sophomore Casey Carr, who has been a jack of all trades in his first varsity season.
Carr has spent time in the outfield, served as a designated hitter and relief pitcher, and will now be Turlock’s starting first baseman.
Carr is hitting .268. Five of his 11 hits have been doubles.
“You have to move on,” de la Motte said. “It’s tough for him and it’s tough for us. You hate to see somebody’s season end on an injury. He just needs to get healthy for Arizona in the fall.”