Gregori High catcher Matt Dallas walked Julian Favela back to the mound, draping his arm around the fast-rising junior.
With St. Mary’s down to its final out in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South quarterfinal, Dallas didn’t want to talk strategy, but the disaster the two avoided just one pitch earlier.
Dallas was sitting on a curveball, when Favela, unbeaten and rarely contested in his first varsity season, summoned a fastball, catching the Stanislaus State-bound catcher by surprise.
“I got crossed up, so we had a pretty good laugh about that,” Dallas said. “Thank god it didn’t do anything bad.”
Moments later, the two were locked in embrace again, celebrating a 4-1 victory over St. Mary’s to continue a historic postseason push.
The Jaguars advanced to the semifinal for the first time in program history, and will face the winner of No. 5 Pitman-No. 1 Tracy on Tuesday evening at the University of the Pacific’s Klein Family Field.
First pitch is at 7.
Gregori will return with another unbeaten starter, either A.J. MacCaughtry, tied for the team lead with nine wins, or Dallas, the only pitcher in program history to throw a perfect game.
“We’re believing. We feel like we’ve earned the right to be here,” coach Jim Davis said. “Not only are we here, but we’re representing the way we should be. We feel like we have an outstanding baseball program, and we’re doing what we need to do against really good competition. St. Mary’s, again, is a traditional powerhouse in our section.”
Dallas and Favela may have dodged a bullet with the curve that wasn’t a curve, but they were otherwise dominant on a day that demanded their very best.
The battery mates made a cool pair on a sweltering afternoon.
Dallas was 2 for 2 with a double, two-run single and an intentional walk, while Favela picked up his second playoff win in less than a week.
In two starts at Klein Family Field, Favela struck out 19 batters in 14 innings, yielding just two runs to the Tri-City Athletic League’s second- (St. Mary’s) and third-place (Lodi) teams.
“It doesn’t hurt that we have a kid that throws like Julian Favela throws,” Davis said. “Julian Favela gives us a chance to win every time he goes to the mound. He competes, throws with plus-velocity, and can throw three pitches for strikes.”
Gregori jumped ahead 2-0 in the third inning on a two-run single by Jimmy McClenaghan, whose rocket up the middle was nearly snared by St. Mary’s shortstop Chandler Sanguinetti.
Nick Urrutia and Tyler Vandemark scored on the hit.
Vandemark reached on a walk, and both moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Zach McCoy. Dallas was intentionally walked to load the bases.
After a strikeout, McClenaghan ripped a shot back up the middle, nearly taking the field umpire off his feet.
“You want to give your best players a chance to win the game, but the only way you get to those kids if everybody else does their job,” Davis said. “Our kids did their job. If someone failed in the moment, someone behind him picked him up. It’s the epitome and essence of team.”
St. Mary’s answered right back on a slicing RBI double by Christian Almanza in the fourth. Tyler Lozano led off the frame with a single to right field – one of just four hits given up by Favela – and scored on the extra-base hit.
Lozano stomped across home plate, barking at his dugout as he clashed helmets with a teammate in the on deck circle.
“Let’s go!” went Lozano’s battle cry.
In another case of mixed signs, Favela responded with two strikeouts, stranding Almanza in scoring position.
“He’s on a different level right now,” Dallas said of Favela, now 9-0 in nine starts. “He goes out there and does what he needs to do – just shove it.”
Dallas stretched the lead to 4-1 with a bases-loaded single in the bottom half of the inning. As he settled on the bag at second base, he fired a fictitious arrow at the dugout.
There was no question who the hunter was on Monday.
Gregori is now 28-1 and guaranteed at least two more games.
Beating St. Mary’s, a four-time Division I champion and the South representative in eight of the last 10 finals, was a signature moment for a young program, Davis said.
“We’ve had an incredibly outstanding season and our kids are brimming with confidence, but they’re not cocky or arrogant,” Davis added. “They understand there’s still a lot of work to do. We have high-characters kids who pull for each other on a daily basis, but…
“If you’re going to win in the playoffs, you have to have good pitching, timely hitting and you got to make the routine play. We feel like we’re doing that in the clutch moments.”