Ben Fletcher hit a ball he'll remember for a while.
The Golden Valley junior delivered a pinch-hit double to score Damien Jimenez in the top of the eighth inning and David Vidauri made the lead stand up as the Cougars defeated Merced 6-5 on Friday night in front of a large crowd at Merced High.
It was the usual large crowd for the 10th annual Nannini Game between the two schools. The Brian and Kevin Nannini Scholarship Foundation awarded 20 scholarships worth $300 to the senior players on both teams, including a surprise scholarship to Merced's team manager/bat boy Dallas Young.
"He's been with the team for three years and he's a player in my book," said Dave Nannini as he handed out the scholarship to the Merced student who has Down syndrome. The foundation has now handed out over 100 scholarships and $40,000 in 9 years.
The players then put on a show.
Shawn Heath-Smith brought the Bears crowd to their feet with a diving play at second base to rob Vidauri in the top of the first inning.
The Bears (10-12 overall, 4-6 Central California Conference) then erupted for three runs against Golden Valley starter Brandon Adame.
Isidro Mendoza came up with the big hit in the inning with a two-out, two-run single that gave Merced a 2-0 lead. Patrick Vitato followed with an RBI single to drive in the third run of the inning.
Adame settled down after the rough start, retiring nine of the next 10 Merced batters.
Meanwhile, the Cougar offense came alive.
Alec McAuley hit a one-out single off Merced starter Josh May in the top of the third inning. Grant Borba was then hit by a pitch and Ridge Bertuccio walked to load the bases.
Vidauri then got the Cougars (2-8 CCC) on the board with a single. Spencer Vieira grounded out to drive in the second run and Austin Trinidad followed that up with a single to center to tie the game at 3-3.
It could have been worse for the Bears, but Merced center fielder Derek Alva threw out Vidauri at home plate on Trinidad's single for the third out.
The two teams then went back and forth late in the game.
Borba reached on a walk to lead off the fifth inning and eventually scored on an error to give the Cougars a 4-3 lead.
Merced answered back in the bottom of the sixth as Alex Ortega drove in the tying run with a single.
Vidauri hit a soft single to right in the top of the seventh inning to give the Cougars the lead right back.
However, Heath-Smith came through with a two-out double in the bottom of the seventh inning to score Mitchell Miller to tie the game at 5-5.
That set the stage for Fletcher in the top of the eighth inning.
Jimenez reached on an error with one out. Fletcher then crushed an Ortega fastball that one-hopped the fence in left-center field and allowed Jimenz to score from first base to give the Cougars a 6-5 lead.
Vidauri struck out the first two batters in the bottom of the eighth, but made things interesting with a hit batter and a walk.
Merced's Alva then hit a ball squarely, but grounded out to end the game.
The Bears now trail Pitman by one game for the final playoff spot in the CCC with five games left.