Bill Rozak

Sonora's Tyler Casteel came into Tuesday's game against Lathrop not expecting to play.

The Wildcat junior is fighting for playing time on a strong pitching staff and had thrown just 6 2/3 innings in the last month covering four relief appearances.

"I woke up this morning and didn't expect to play," Casteel said. "I didn't even clean my jersey thinking I wasn't gonna play."

But late in the day at school, Casteel was asked an important question by his head coach Scott Johnson.

"I got a text around12:30asking if I wanted to start," Casteel said. "And I said, 'Yeah!' I couldn't have been happier."

Casteel responded to his emergency start by shutting down the Spartans. He allowed three hits and no earned runs in five innings to earn his second victory of the season, beating the Spartans 10-4 at Bev Barron Field.

"I was super happy with our pitching," Johnson said. "We had some adversity before the game and had to make a last-minute pitching change. I texted Tyler and asked if he wanted to start and he stepped up and gave us five solid innings. I thought he did a great job.

"I couldn't be happier with the team's effort. We had them bounce around positions today and nobody complained."

Casteel had Lathrop hitters off balance from the start. Using a heavy does of offspeed pitches, the right-hander had Spartan hitters making soft contact. If the Wildcats converted-to-outs any of the six errors they committed, Casteel would have retired 21 hitters and tossed a complete game.

"I was throwing a lot of off-speed, a lot of changeups and curveballs," Casteel said. "The split wasn't working that well, but my changeup was pretty nasty. That was my main pitch."

Casteel did not allow a hit until the fourth, but had surrendered two unearned runs when his defense let him down.

"We were a little shaky on defense especially in that one inning," said Johnson, who is in his eighth season and earned his 100th victory. "That's goes with making last-minute lineup changes and some kids were playing out of position and hadn't had a lot of practice time there."

Sonora jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first. Carter Denton and Tyler Helm each walked in front of Eric Gilliatt who was hit to load the bases. Joseph Kish followed with a liner off the pitcher's glove for a run-scoring infield single. Garrett Bozzo added an RBI on a fielder's choice.

In the second, Helm lashed a two-out RBI single to left field to plate Charlie Dunn for a 3-0 lead.

Sonora added a run in the fourth, but Lathrop rallied for two unearned runs in the top of the fifth to tie the game.

The Wildcats responded in the home half of the fifth to take the lead for good.

With Lathrop's help, four errors, and the red-hot bat of Gilliatt, the Wildcats plated four runs. The big hit was Gilliatt's bases loaded two-run single that broke open the game.

"I got a first pitch strike, then I got a pitch on the outer half that I wanted to take, but fouled it off," Gilliatt said. "Then he threw me a fastball low and outside and that's where I thought he was gonna throw it, so I hit right into left field."

Gilliatt over his last three games is 7 for 7 with five runs scored and six runs batted in. He has raised his batting average to .333. He has also been hit by pitches three times, including twiceTuesday.

Against the Spartans, Gilliatt went 3 for 3 with three RBIs and two runs scored.

"I'm playing just how I should play," Gilliatt said. "I am seeing the ball really well."

"He's not a kid that's gonna wow you with athleticism, but he does everything we ask," Johnson said. "He has good approaches at the plate. He's selective. He knows what pitches he can handle and the ones he can't. That approach causes him to be very successful. He's one of those kids that is just a joy to coach. Just a real quality kid and player. He plays the game smart."

Also for the Wildcats (10-8, 4-4 VOL), Kish had two hits, Tom Thomason had two hits and Dunn and Helm each scored twice.

After the Wildcats took the lead, lefty Ryan Dies came in, looked sharp, and closed out the Spartans. The junior lefty allowed a hit and walk while striking out three over the final two innings.

"I thought our starter Tyler did a pretty good job," Dies said. "We didn't back him up with our defense. I came in and threw strikes and tried to save the game. I felt good. All my pitches were working and the breaking balls were biting."

"Ryan Dies came in and really shut them down," Johnson said. "He pitched really, really well. It was probably his best outing of the year."

The Wildcats will go for a sweep of the Spartans (2-7 VOL)Thursdayat Lathrop and will finish the weekon Fridayat home against Sierra at an earlier time,4 p.m., due to is no junior varsity contest before. Should the Cats beat Lathrop, the battle with Sierra will have big playoff implications.

"Our goal is always a VOL championship," Johnson said. "We've had a couple losses that have hurt us, we had a chance to win the Sierra game (5-2 loss, March 27) and we had a chance to take care of business in 10 innings against Manteca (8-7 loss, April 3) and that kind of hurt us for the overall championship. But three teams make the playoffs and once you get into the playoffs, anything can happen. If we can get there and peak there, who knows. We kinda control our own destiny still. We've still got Oakdale and we've got Sierra, so if we can beat the teams we're supposed to beat and steal a game here and there, we'll be right in the thick of things."

Game notes:Wildcat catcher Carter Denton threw out two attempted base stealers. … Sonora freshman Nate Gookin received action late in the game and impressed his coach. "Nate Gookin, a freshman, comes in for us, he was hurt earlier in the year, and we're giving him some at-bats now and he's probably our best base runner. There's big future for him." … Sonora committed four errors in the third inning, Lathrop made four errors in the fifth. … The Wildcats stranded 12 base runners in six innings.