ATWATER — The Merced hitters changed their approach at the plate against Buhach Colony ace Daulton Jefferies.
The Bears went to short, compact swings with the hope of putting balls in play often against the Cal-bound senior.
The game plan helped limit Jefferies to just seven strikeouts, but the senior right-hander still dominated on his way to pitching the Thunder to a 3-1 win over Merced (7-7 overall, 3-3 Central California Conference) on Thursday afternoon at Buhach Colony.
"I thought we had some good at-bats, we hit the ball right at some people," Bears coach Justin Parle said. "He's tough and everyone knows he's tough. He can throw any pitch in any count. That's what I'm trying to get my pitchers to do."
Jefferies handcuffed a Bears offense that likes to bunt, run and put pressure on opposing teams by keeping their leadoff man off base in six of the seven innings. Merced managed just three singles and one walk off Jefferies, who struck out 37 hitters in his last 20 innings heading into Thursday's start.
"Getting that first out in an inning is a huge weight shifter," Jefferies said. "It keeps them from getting loud in their dugout. It changes the whole attitude of the inning."
The Thunder (8-6, 3-3) tied the game at 1-1 in the second inning when Darin Dupont plated Matt Sherman with a sacrifice fly.
Buhach Colony then jumped in front with a two-run third inning. Jefferies walked and stole second to start the rally. One out later, Brandon Young laced a triple down the left-field line to give the Thunder a 2-1 lead. Young scored on a wild pitch to give Buhach Colony a 3-1 lead.
Young also doubled in the first inning.
"We talked yesterday and again before the game today, we just can't fall behind," Thunder coach Greg Wakefield said. "We're all in a pack chasing Turlock. Turlock is the team with a few less problems than everyone else.
"At 3-3, we're level with Merced and right with everyone else. It makes it a little better heading into spring break."