Bottom of the seventh.
Sonora trails by one run, 4-3.
Mason Dambacher steps to the plate.
It’s the magical moment in a game any baseball fan will tell you makes an otherwise uneventful game worth every pitch that came before.
Strike one. Ball one. Foul ball.
And then the most celebrated single of the season.
Dambacher roped one to right field bringing in the go-ahead run and adding a walk-off win to the Wildcats’ postseason.
Seeded No.8, Sonora hosted No. 9 Livingston Tuesday night in the first round of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Division IV playoffs.
The win was the product of a game plan head coach Chet Winham and his staff spent hours crafting.
Scouring stats. Planning the pitching rotation several games into the bracket.
Austin Johnson was on the mound for the Wildcats. He pitched five innings and recorded four strikeouts.
“(He) did exactly what we wanted him to do on the mound,” said Winham, who is in his first year as the ‘Cats’ head coach. “I thought he just did a great job.”
Johnson held Livingston to a one-run lead heading into the fifth.
“It’s the scenario we wanted so we could move to our left handed pitcher,” said Winham.
Enter Tyler Matyshock. The reliever Winham knew could shut the door and give the Wildcats an opportunity to make an offensive push and put some pressure on the bases.
Livingston took the early lead with a run in the top of the first on a Cesar Avila fly ball double to center field.
The Wildcat bats were quiet through three when Matyshock singled on a grounder to center field.
The ‘Cats threatened to score after an error and a fielder’s choice moved Matyshock to third. But a strikeout and an out at home ended the inning.
That 1-0 score lasted until the top of the seventh when Livingston surged to a 4-0 lead.
“We needed to get their pitcher out of the game,” said Winham. “We asked our guys to start taking pitches.”
With the sun set and the field lights on, the Wildcats started their rally.
Austin Johnson singles on the 3-1 hitter’s count.
A lineup change by Sonora moved Jared Whitney to the third base position and he took over running duties from Johnson at first.
Livingston pitcher Cesar Avila was called for a balk, moving Whitney to second. Jacob Neilson kept the momentum going with a single to center field. Whitney moves to third.
That’s when Sonora started chipping away at the lead. A Trent Tanko single scores Whitney. Dalton Cuneo brings in Neilson.
It’s 4-2. No outs.
Avila records a three-pitch strikeout.
But the at-bat brings him to his pitch count limit and a position change brings Dakota Garcia to the mound.
Jeff Allen capitalizes and draws the walk.
Braden Hobbs chops a fielder’s choice to the shortstop scoring one.
Two outs. Runners on second and third. The Wildcats are down by just one, 4-3.
Livingston decides to intentionally walk Matyshock.
That wasn’t a surprise, it’s been happening all year, said Winham.
“Most players and coaches know who he is,” he said.
While the Wildcats want Matyshock hitting with runners in scoring position late in the game, they’ve got Dambacher on deck.
“I was fairly confident at that point about what was going to happen,” said Winham.
With the bases loaded, Dambacher again delivers.
His game-winning walk-off brought Dalton Cuneo and Braden Hobbs across the plate and a sea of Wildcat green and gold swarmed the field.
The ‘Cats are on the road Thursday for a game against the No. 1 seeded El Dorado in Placerville.
But the seed is just a number for Sonora.
“When I talk about the No. 1 seed I talk about the games prior and the teams we’ve beaten already that compare,” said Winham. “We’re not really playing the No. 1 seed.”
His message to the team is, “You guys are playing against yourselves. When you’re playing your game, you can beat anybody.”
The game begins at 6:30 p.m.
The winner plays either No. 5 Capital or No. 4 Mountain House on Saturday at noon.