By DAN GOLDMAN
LODI A pitch here or a hit there and the Bret Harte High School baseball team would be happily rearranging its Memorial Day plans to play for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship on Monday.
But the Bullfrogs, who entered yesterday's doubleheader at Zupo Field with a 1-0 lead in their best-of-3 semifinal series against Escalon, will be barbequing instead of baseballing after dropping a pair of nailbiters to the Cougars, including a 2-1 decision in the winner-take-all Game 3.
Bret Harte (18-10) made a strong bid for its first Section final since falling to LeGrand in 1975's Division III championship game. In Game 2 of the series, the first of yesterday's twinbill, the Frogs grabbed early leads of 3-0 and 4-2 before Trans-Valley League runner-up Escalon (21-8) avoided elimination by hanging a four-run fourth inning on the scoreboard en route to a 7-4 win.
That set up the deciding Game 3, in which Bret Harte struggled at the plate, but made up for it with stellar pitching performances from Ryan Carter and Anthony Bennett, and outstanding defense from third baseman Matt Muller and left fielder Kenny Baptista.
However, Escalon pitchers James Coyle and Zach Swass matched the Frogs' hurlers pitch-for-pitch, and with center fielder K.J. VanderGriff making one big defensive play after another, the Cougars managed to take a 2-1 lead into the top of the seventh.
With three outs remaining in their season and trailing by one run, the Frogs sent the meat of their order to the plate Bennett, Travis Emerson and Baptista to face none other than Swass, called on to pitch one inning of relief after throwing seven full innings in the first game of the day.
"I couldn't ask for anything more than having 2-3-4 coming up in that situation," Bret Harte coach Heath Lane said.
Once again, Swass had the Frogs' number, striking out all three hitters to end Bret Harte's season and send Escalon into the title game against TVL champion Patterson (21-7).