The sounds emanating from the Sonora Wildcat bullpen before Thursday’s game were powerful and a sign of things to come. Every few seconds — Wham! Thwack! Crack!
Wildcat starting pitcher Ryan Stevenson was warming up with Dylan Fernandes and the lefty’s fastball had the leather on catcher’s mitt begging for mercy.
“When we went to the bullpen to warmup, he started bringing it hard,” said Fernandes. “He started letting it loose and I was thinking, ‘Wow! He’s bringing it tonight.”
Once the game started, Stevenson continued to attack the catcher’s glove as well as the strike zone without mercy.
Stevenson hurled four innings, allowed one walk, one hit and one run while striking out nine to earn his fourth victory of the season, defeating the Bret Harte Bullfrogs 12-1 under the lights at Bev Barron Field.
“This was the best I’ve seen him throw this year — it was amazing,” said Fernandes. “It was the hardest I’ve seen him throw and he had everything working. He was just popping it in there, hitting his spots. I didn’t have to move the glove much. That kid’s been working hard all year and I’m proud of him.”
Stevenson struck out two in each of the first two innings, added one in the third and then finished his night by striking out the side — four batters — in the fourth inning.
“The pitching staff has been doing it for us all year,” said Wildcat head coach Scott Johnson. “Tonight was a continuation of that. Stevenson, we’re so lucky to have him this year, he’s been so strong. At the beginning of the year, I thought our pitching might be our question mark. But it’s actually becoming one of our deepest positions.”
The Wildcats got on the board first with two runs in the bottom of the second on three straight singles by Curtis Kellogg, Grant Dodge and Nolan Dambacher.
The Bullfrogs manufactured their run in the third inning.
Taylor Westberg led off with a walk and was at third base with two outs when Justice Rasmussen got plunked by a Stevenson fastball. Two pitches later, Bret Harte perfectly executed a double steal and Westberg narrowly beat the throw home to make it 2-1 heading into the bottom of the third.
“I thought the game was gonna be close early on,” said Bullfrog head coach Zack Abernathy. “But with our league opener tomorrow (Friday), we had to get some pitchers in the game and not waste an arm. We knew we were gonna throw two-three innings each and use our pitchers. We got three guys some work today, obviously not the ones who are going tomorrow, it was a good outing. We’re obviously not happy with the score, but we fielded the ball well, we hit the ball and I think we did pretty good.
“Sonora’s a good team, my hats off to them. They’ve got some throwers, I don’t know a whole lot about them, but they throw well. They’re gonna be top three in their league I would imagine. It looks like they’ve got not only good pitching, but they look deep too.”
The Wildcats took control of the game in the bottom of the third. They sent 14 batters to the plate and scored 10 runs on six hits.
Wyatt Johnson walked to leadoff and four pitches later was rounding third base on his way to score after Fernandes lined a frozen rope off the right-center field fence for a double.
One out later, Justin Payne singled to left to plate Fernandes. Two batters later, Grant Dodge blasted a double into the left-center field gap to plate Payne and Kellogg.
Bradley Begley added an RBI single and Payne capped the rally with a 330-foot liner to the center field fence that never got more than 12 feet off the ground.
“I think we came out going hard and swinging hard,” said Payne, who is 7-for-13 in his last four games and is hitting .367. “We came in here feeling pretty good. We’ve been working real hard in practice and everything came out pretty good today. I think all the work is paying off. We’ve been in the cage hitting, swinging — we’re all working hard.”
For Sonora (8-3), Dodge went 3-for-3 with two runs scored and two RBIs, Payne was 2-for-3, Karson Canaday was 2-for-3, Fernandes 1-for-2, Dambacher 1-for-2, Begley 1-for-3, Kellogg 1-for-2 and Stevenson was 1-for-1. Dambacher, the hard-throwing righthander, threw a scoreless fifth inning with a strikeout to close out the game.
“We had a real good game and we all came out hitting,” said Dodge. “We were focused all the way to the end. We came together as a team and it’s a big win for us. It’s another team in the MLL that we beat.”
The Wildcats have defeated three straight Mother Lode League opponents — Summerville, Calaveras and Bret Harte.
For Bret Harte (3-3), Joey Carlon and Jarrett Duarte had singles.
The Bullfrogs open the MLL season today on the road at Linden at 3:30 p.m. while the Cats open the Valley Oak League on Wednesday at home against rival Sierra.
“I’m excited to get into league,” said Fernandes. “Sierra’s a big one. It’s kinda personal playing them. I want to beat them bad and I think we’ve got the pitching, hitting and the team to do it.”