Blake Whiting cast his gaze downward and nodded his head.
Oakdale’s senior right-hander had just been asked about the grand slam he allowed in the third inning, which proved to be the only offense Christian Brothers High School would need as the Falcons defeated Oakdale 5-2 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III baseball final Monday at Tony Zupo Field.
“Did you know immediately it was gone?” came the question.
Whiting nodded and mouthed a one-word response. “Yeah.”
“It was supposed to be a fastball away,” said Whiting, who had fired five consecutive balls out of the strike zone. “I was just trying to attack the zone and get ahead.”
Whiting got too much of the plate and catcher Diego Black launched the ball down the left field line. While Whiting new immediately it was gone, Black had his doubts.
“I knew it had the distance but I thought it might go foul for a minute,” said Black, who was 2 for 3 with four RBIs and two runs scored.
The Mustangs eventually cut the deficit to 4-2 but they couldn’t string together enough big hits as left-hander Tanner Cunha was able to wiggle out of multiple jams en route to the complete-game victory.
The win snaps an 0-5 streak in section championship games and brings a measure of revenge for Christian Brothers (29-2), which was throttled 51-14 by Oakdale in the D-III football final last fall. The Falcons lost the D-I baseball final in 1988, D-II finals in 2002, 2004 and 2014 and last season’s D-III championship to Manteca.
After recording the first two outs of the second inning, Whiting loaded the bases but got No. 9 hitter Jacob Tucker to pop out to short to avoid any damage.
It was a different story in the third. With the bases juiced and just one away, Blake put his team ahead 4-0.
“He sat on a fastball and put a good swing it,” said Oakdale coach Nate Gregory. “That was that.”
The Mustangs didn’t go quietly, however.
In the top of the fourth, Oakdale seemed poised for a big inning, loading the bases before an out was recorded. However, the Mustangs could only get one run across – Michael Juarez scored on a fielder’s choice by Vito Rodin.
“I just wanted to attack the zone and let my defense work behind me,” said Cunha, who struck out the side in the seventh to end the game. “I’ve got a solid defense and I know if I do my job, they’ll do theirs.
In the fifth, the first two hitters – Whiting and Blake Maddock – singled for the Mustangs, but again it resulted in just one run.
“(Cunha) got tough under pressure,” said Gregory, whose club finishes the season at 25-7. “He buried some pitches down and was good pitching out of problems. He didn’t cave.”
According to Black, that’s what Cunha has been doing all season.
“The dude knows how to bear down,” Black said of his batterymate. “He lets his defense work behind him. He’s a helluva pitcher.”
The Mustangs, who won six out of seven D-IV titles between 2007 and 2013, were looking for their first D-III crown and first under Gregory.
Gregory said the 2017 team’s character is what he’ll remember most.
“They’re good people,” said the fourth-year skipper. “I’ve never had more fun coaching a group of players in my career. They’re really good people.”