The good news for the Sonora Wildcats on Thursday night was that they impressed their head coach with the way they approached every at-bat.
The bad news was once they put runners on base, they couldn't turn them into runs.
Sonora stranded runners in every inning, including twice with the bases loaded, and suffered a 5-1 Valley Oak League loss to the Sierra Timberwolves at Bev Barron Field.
"I thought we had better approaches at the plate than last game," said Sonora head coach Scott Johnson. "It was one of our better games. We had 15 base runners, we scored one, one got picked off so we left 13 men on - that's tough. They (Sierra) situationally hit better than us tonight."
With two outs in the first, the Wildcats loaded the bases behind singles by Justin Payne and Rocky Rozadilla and a walk from Ryan Dies but couldn't push a run across.
In the second with one out, Ryan Dills singled and Tyler Helm walked but neither would advance.
Sonora starter Evan Estes blanked the Timberwolves through the first two innings, including a pair of strikeouts. His fastball was popping Kyle Wolfe's catcher's mitt and his breaking balls were exploding down.
Sierra broke through in the third against the stingy Estes for a pair of runs on two hits and a walk. For the game, Estes allowed five hits and three earned runs while striking out four in 5 2/3 innings.
In the bottom of the third, Payne smashed a second-straight single to lead off and went to second on a wild pitch but was stranded.
"I felt like Evan really pitched his heart out and we didn't back him up too much at the plate," said Payne who went 3 for 4 to lead Sonora's 7-hit attack. "We left a lot of guys on and you gotta hook your pitcher and help him out. I feel like he pitched well enough to get a win. He threw with good velocity and he's just disgusting. He should have had a win for sure."
The Timberwolves made the most in the fifth out of two singles and a sacrifice and pushed another run across.
The Cats looked poised to make a comeback and loaded the bases in the bottom of the fifth, but again, came up empty.
Sierra scored its final two runs in the sixth.
"The game started off kind of good, I felt like I was doing decent," said Estes. "And then they started getting some hits and I got a little down about it. It's all mental and then it kind of went downhill from there. I've gone six innings before, but I've had a lot of time off and haven't had a lot of bullpen time. But there are things I need to work on, mechanically and mentally."
In the bottom of the sixth, Dills was hit by a pitch to lead off but Sierra turned a double play on a sharp grounder back to the mound to diffuse any rally. It turned out to be a big double play because Sonora's Ryan Stevenson followed with a laser off the right field wall that went for a double.
The Wildcats pushed across their lone run in the seventh, when, Payne, who had hit three bullets for three singles, hit a slow roller that was misplayed into an error. A Rozadilla walk, a wild pitch and a Dies ground out produced the score.
"If I said I'd be unhappy with a split with Sierra, I'd be lying," said Johnson. "Anytime you can split with a good team like they are, it's not a bad thing. I would've loved to swept, but we'll be OK.
"I was happy with Estes' pitching. I thought he pitched well enough to win. I liked that Payne came in and got a ground ball to get out of the sixth inning. And then we brought the sophomore in, Carter Denton, and I think he was the only one who was able to get No. 12 (Jake Pruitt) out in the two games. So we did some positive things, but not enough to win, but we'll get better."
The Wildcats will next play a non-league contest Saturday against the Bret Harte Bullfrogs at Bev Barron Field. First pitch is at approximately 1 p.m.
"They're (Timberwolves) a good team that works hard," said Payne. "Every guy through there lineup works hard. We've just gotta go back to practice and keep working. We've got Bret Harte on Saturday, and we gotta work things out against them and see where we go from there."