HANFORD — The hopes for a Valley championship came to an abrupt end as the No. 1 seed Golden Bears were upset by the No. 16 seed Stallions, 13-9, in the first round of the CIF Central Section Division IV playoffs.
Sierra Pacific (21-4, 12-0 ESL) outhit Madera South 17-10, but the difference was where the ball was hit in Thursday’s stunner.
“I tip my cap to Madera South, they came out ready to play,” Sierra Pacific coach Dave Furtado said. “They found the gap, I think that was the biggest difference. They found the gaps quite a bit and were able to run the bases. We had opportunities and it didn’t go our way.”
Sierra Pacific faced Madera South (6-23, 0-15 CML) on April 17 and defeated them 10-0 in the Selma Easter Tournament in six innings. It was much more different the second time around.
Sierra Pacific seemed poised to advance. They led 6-4 in the top of the seventh and, after walking the first batter, pitcher Zach Barber got the next two outs. One more would punch their ticket to the quarterfinals.
Instead, the five-win Stallions rallied. A single and intentional walk loaded the bases. Madera South first baseman Chris Jones then unleashed a bases-clearing triple to center field to give the Stallions a 7-6 lead.
“They just hit better than us and when that happens, you can’t really do anything about it,” Barber said. “If a ball finds a gap it finds a gap and when a line drive is caught by a center fielder, you can’t do anything about that. I just think that the game of baseball was on their side today and we did all we could to stop it, but we couldn’t.”
Barber exited the game and Caleb Murray took the mound where he got the strikeout to keep it a one-run deficit.
Sierra Pacific then started their own rally with George Dunker getting on base with a leadoff infield single, Barber hitting a single to right field and Colby Jones executing a bunt to load the bases with no outs.
“We’re a good comeback team no matter what inning it is,” Barber said. “We’ve had about five walk-offs while I’ve been at this school and that’s what we were hoping for, but we couldn’t get it.”
Caleb Murray hit an RBI ground out to tie the game. The Golden Bears had two more chances to win the game with runners at second and third, but were unable to capitalize.
In the extra inning, the game fell apart for the Golden Bears. Murray surrendered four base hits, a walk, hit a batter and the Stallions scored six runs to take a commanding 13-7 lead in the top of the eighth.
“Honestly, I couldn’t really tell you,” Vangronigen said about eighth inning. “Tough break I guess, I don’t really know how to explain it.”
Sierra Pacific was able to load the bases and score two runs in the bottom of the eighth, but came up short.
The Stallions were able to drive home the majority of their baserunners and only left five on base, while the Golden Bears stranded 11. The Stallions also made their hits count with seven of their 10 plating at least one runner.
“They got hot, they never let off the gas,” Furtado said. “Both teams were swinging the bats well today … they just ended up with a few more runs than us and that was the difference.”
The Golden Bears missed some crucial chances to expand on a two-run lead, most notably when they had the bases loaded in the fifth and came away emptyhanded.
The game was a mixture of highs and lows for the Golden Bears. They initially trailed 2-0 after a two-out error kept the first inning alive for the Stallions. They capitalized with a single and then two-run double.
Sierra Pacific answered with its own offense. The first three batters reached in the bottom of the first capped by a two-run single to right field by catcher Gavin Vangronigen to drive in Elias Garcia and Gavin Gamble.
After Will Springer drew a walk and George Dunker executed a sacrifice bunt, Barber hit an RBI single and Duran hit an RBI ground out to make it 4-2.
The game came to a halt when Sierra Pacific starting pitcher Aden Duran only lasted 1 1/3 innings after suffering an injury during the second inning.
On a bunt attempt, Duran dove for the ball and came up with a left shoulder injury. He did not return to the game and Barber came in to pitch. Duran allowed three runs (one earned) with one strikeout.
“I’ve been ready because I’ve been throwing bullpens most of the week,” Barber said about coming in early. “I knew that I’d have to pitch sometime this playoff series. I knew that when I’m going to go in I’m going to give it all I got because I’m going to play every game like it’s my last.”
Barber pitched well going 5 1/3 innings and allowing four runs on four hits with two strikeouts and four walks. He was also 4-for-5 at the plate with two RBIs.
Will Springer had an RBI single in the third inning and Vangronigen followed with his own in the fourth to give the Golden Bears a 6-3 lead.
Vangronigen had an all-around great game for the Golden Bears. He was 4-for-5 with three RBIs and three runs. He also caught two runners attempting to steal and made a spectacular catch behind home plate.
“My pitchers work hard keeping [the baserunners] as close as they can and if they try to steal, I’m going to do my best to get them out,” Vangronigen said.
The Golden Bears end the season with their sixth consecutive East Sequoia League championship and a third season in a row going undefeated in league play. The team also ended with 20 or more wins for a third season in a row.