VISALIA — David Hilyard took the mound with everything on the line. With Central California clinging to a two-run lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, the tying runs were at second and third base after a wild pitch, and then loaded when Hilyard walked the first batter he faced.

“I was really nervous,” Hilyard said about the big moment. “I was trying not to throw them in the dirt. I was just trying to throw it a little higher … but I was just trying to get it there so I could strike him out or get a double play, ground ball, anything.”

Central California entered the sixth leading 11-8 with Aiden Redding cruising on the mound. But back-to-back singles, including an RBI single to cut the deficit to two, forced Central California coach Carlos Perez to pull Redding after three solid innings.

“I had to call time and go calm them down a little bit,” Perez said. “I think they were getting a little too excited.”

The next batter Hilyard faced hit a slow roller, which turned into an infield single and cut the lead to one as the bases remained loaded. A stoic Hilyard buckled down and got the final batter looking for strike three to end a thrilling 11-10 victory over Southwest at Riverway Sports Park on Sunday.

“I could tell the kid was a little scared coming up to it, how he just barely swung he was just trying to make contact,” Hilyard said. “I was just trying to blow it past him get the strikeout. Outside was working pretty well.

Central California is now 2-1 in pool play and Southwest dropped to 1-2 in the 2019 Major/60 Cal Ripken World Series. The win keeps them firmly in the hunt for a spot in the championship bracket. They will face host Visalia Blue (3-0) today at 7:30 p.m.

“For us, every game is a must-win, but this is going to be a tough game, a really tough challenge against a really tough team,” Perez said.

Hilyard earned the save, but it was Redding who kept the team in the game after entering with two outs in the third. He pitched a scoreless fourth and fifth before running into trouble in the sixth. Redding allowed two earned runs with a walk and two strikeouts over three innings.

At the plate, he was 2-for-4 with an RBI single and run scored with both coming in the first inning. His efforts earned him the Ron Tellefsen Player of the Game for Central California.

“The first pitcher he wasn’t throwing that fast,” Redding said. “I was just trying to make sure to hit the ball, get on base so we could have runners.”

After starting slow on offense — they didn’t score until the fourth and third innings in their first two games — Central California needed only nine pitches before Hilyard delivered his first of two RBI hits, a double to center field after Wyatt Bookout’s one-out single.

“The last couple days I haven’t been hitting very well because I’ve been trying to hit a home run, which hasn’t been doing very well,” Hilyard said. “So I went into that at-bat with the mentality thinking I’m going to swing the bat hard with the right swing and it worked.”

Preston King and Redding followed with an RBI double and single, and Redding scored on a fielding error by the second baseman. Central California put up a four-spot in the first, but Southwest responded with two of their own runs in the bottom of the inning.

“When I walked into the ballpark I saw the boys laughing and having a little fun,” Perez said. “They were a lot more relaxed today before the game than they were yesterday and I think that had a lot to do with their success at the plate early.”

Southwest added three more runs in the second and another three in the third. Trailing 8-5 and facing another uphill battle, Central California stayed focused this time.

Kazden Berna started the fourth with a walk and Nathaniel Zackery singled to put runners at first and second. Consecutive errors by Southwest loaded the bases and scored a run. Bookout, who was 3-for-4, then hit an RBI ground out and Hilyard’s infield single tied the game. A delayed double steal allowed Gavin Luna to successfully steal home for a 9-8 lead.

“Being up early and then getting down pretty bad and then battling back and taking the win is pretty good,” Perez said.

Central California added two more in the fifth on an error and another delayed double steal. Troy Aguilar and Dalton Areias came across home plate as pinch runners for Manny Souza and Trejo, who reached on a walk and double, respectively.

Landon Silva started the game for Central California and pitched two innings allowing five runs (three earned) on four hits with two strikeouts and one walk. Carlos Perez struggled in his outing lasting two outs and surrendering three runs, including a two-run home run.

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Noe Garcia can be reached at (559) 583-2431 or ngarcia@hanfordsentinel.com. Follow Noe on Twitter at @noecarlosgarcia.

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Sports reporter for The Sentinel

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