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Cats rally to force extra innings, but lose to Buffs

Jesse Jones / Union Democrat. Sonora Wildcat Tyler Helm (22, above) tags out Manteca’s Brandon Landwehr at second base in Thursday’s 8-7 loss at Bev Barron Field.
Postgame Thursday night at Bev Barron Field, the Sonora Wildcat baseball players were heart broken. It was almost 10 p.m. and they had just battled Valley Oak League rival Manteca for almost four hours and 10 innings, and came out on the losing end of an 8-7 score.

“We played hard, but it was a tough loss, a heartbreaker,” said Wildcat shortstop and relief pitcher Tyler Helm. “But we fought the whole time.”

But compared to where the Wildcats were after five and a half innings, they’ll take the heartbreaker.

Down 6-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth, Sonora was on life support. Not one Wildcat in the home dugout expected a comeback.

Manteca’s Jacob Corn was on autopilot. The Buffaloes’ left-handed star senior had allowed just one hit while striking out eight.

“Honestly, we were pretty down in there after falling behind 6-0,” said Sonora catcher Carter Denton about the team in the dugout after allowing three unearned runs in the top of the sixth.

But on the way to victory lane, Manteca head coach Neil MacDannald took out his ace and brought in a reliever to start the sixth.

That’s just what the Wildcats needed.

With one out in the bottom of the sixth, Denton smacked a single to right field. Tyler Helm and Evan Estes followed with walks to load the bases. Garrett Bozzo fisted an infield single to drive in Denton and Ryan Dies was hit by a pitch to make it 6-2.

An emergency trip to the mound was made to change pitchers.

Charlie Dunn greeted the Buffaloes next hurler Alex Jorgenson with an infield single to plate Estes.

With two outs, Tom Thomason came up with the clutch hit, grounding a two-run single into right field to make it 6-5.

“He’s been pretty focused in practice and it feels great he was able to get a key hit in that situation,” said Wildcat head coach Scott Johnson. 

“We started to string a couple of hits together and it brought life,” Denton said. “All of sudden there’s two runs on the board, and then there’s five and everybody’s going crazy.”

“This team, we always go crazy in the dugout, we never give up,” Helm said.

Helm sent the Buffaloes down in order in the top of the seventh to set up drama in the home half.

Denton earned a lead-off walk and was wild-pitched to second.

Helm stepped up and worked the count full and fouled off pitch after pitch before finding one to his liking. The lefty lashed a liner down the left field line for a game-tying single and advanced to second on the throw home.

Estes was intentionally walked but the rally ended and the Wildcats couldn’t push across the winning run, but forced extra innings.

Manteca scored a run in the eighth on an error after two sparkling defensive plays. Denton exploded from his crouch to dive and snare a popped up sacrifice attempt. On the next play, Dunn, the Cat’s second baseman, ranged far to his left and slid to smother a grounder and throw to first for the out.

Sonora had a golden opportunity to win the game in the bottom half.

With one out, Thomason, Joseph Kish and Denton walked in order to load the bases. Helm tied the game, 7-7, with a fielder’s choice. Estes was again intentionally walked but the Wildcats left the base loaded.

“We had too many opportunities to win, not to win,” Denton said. “In extra innings, we’d let them score and we tied it back up, we just couldn’t put it away. Even earlier, we scored five in the sixth and couldn’t put it away and finish the inning. And that was the theme of the night, we couldn’t put it away.”

“We did a lot of positive things,” Johnson said. “We battled. We had, at times, good at-bats. Our pitching was outstanding except for a few walks. But as positive as things were, they didn’t beat us, we beat ourselves. We had crucial errors at wrong times, poor base running and we struck out eight times looking. That’s not us. We drill day-in and day-out about two-strike approach, taking your nose to the ball and put it into play. There’a lot of areas to improve upon and but we did do a lot of things positive.”

Helm, a righty while garnishing the leather, hurled five innings and allowed just one hit and four unearned runs. He walked two and struck out four in the tough-luck loss.

“I thought Helm threw awesome,” Denton said. “He was hitting his spots. His curve was moving a lot more than usual. He hit was really hitting his spots with that. Had them on their heels, it was dirty.”

Estes started for Sonora threw five effective innings, allowing four hits, six walks and two earned runs while striking out five.

The Wildcats will try to avenge their loss this afternoon at Manteca (3-0 VOL). The left-handed Kish will start for Sonora (0-2 VOL).

“I’m sure it’s gonna be competitive,”Johnson said. “We told the kids, ‘no matter what went on in this game, remember how this feels, especially the things they did after the game on our field. We’re gonna go in, win, lose or draw, be respectful and classy and we’re gonna play our game.”

“Tonight was a heartbreaker,” Helm said. “But we’ll come back tomorrow and get ‘em. It’s gonna be a crazy game.”

Game notes: Helm started two double plays while at shortstop in the first five innings. The first, he teamed with Dunn to escape a bases loaded one-out jam in the first. … Sonora batters struck out 16 times. … Sonora outhit Manteca 6-5. … Sonora’s Kish threw out a Manteca baserunner at home from center field in the sixth inning. … Manteca relief pitchers walked nine, hit one and struck out seven in five innings.


Coach’s comments

— On the decision the Manteca manager made to take out his ace pitcher Jacob Corn after the fifth inning:

“I think he underestimated us. I think he thought, ‘I’m gonna rest my No. 1 and get outta here with a win.’ And we came at them. One of the positive things is that he threw everybody he had except for who’s starting tomorrow (today, at 3:30 p.m.) and now we’ve seen them. We’re going there ready to play. Our kids are upset. They’re competitive. They’re gonna improve and we’ll go from there.”

—Impressions of Manteca’s star hurler:

“He was very good. He’s a Division I type pitcher. He showed our kids the level you gotta get to if you want to be successful. Frankly, being a little younger team, we were overmatched at times. And I don’t mind being over matched as long as we have a good approach. We added a poor approach to being over matched and it was a deadly combination early.”

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