Mark de la Motte wasn’t sure who to hand the ball to in a big early season matchup against Merced on Friday.
The Turlock coach eventually settled on sophomore Jon Temple.
It was a good choice.
Temple dominated, limiting the Bears to just three hits in six scoreless innings, as the Bulldogs pulled even with Merced atop the Central California Conference standings with a 7-0 win at Turlock High.
“I found out about an hour before the game I was starting,” said Temple, who struck out five and walked two. “I was mentally ready. I came out here after school and I was focused on what I had to do. I came out ready to deal and prove that Turlock is the team to beat.”
It was a big game for the Bulldogs (7-2, 3-1 CCC) after losing to Merced (5-5, 3-1) 3-2 on Wednesday.
Turlock didn’t want to fall two games behind the Bears this early.
“For sure, it was a huge game,” de la Motte said. “You never know what is going to happen until the end, but the tie-breakers are built in with the two out of three. It was a big game and our guys responded pretty well.”
The Bulldogs jumped out early with a run in the first inning. Brett Cumberland led off the game with a double off Merced starter Mitchell Miller. Cumberland moved up to third on a flyball and scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Gavin Gaffaney.
Both Miller and Temple settled in early as the scored stayed 1-0 until the fourth inning.
The Bears didn’t advance a runner to second base against Temple until Miller and and Jeremy Mendoza hit back-to-back singles with two outs in the fourth. With runners on first and third and an 0-2 count on Jordan Kemps, Merced coach Justin Parle tried to steal a run.
Mendoza broke early from first base and got in a run down. With Mendoza tied up between first and second, Miller broke home from third, but was gunned down by Turlock second baseman Brian Mendez for the third out.
The Bulldogs tacked on a second run in the bottom of the fourth when Rob Domingos singled in Temple.
Turlock broke open the game with three runs in the fifth inning. Cumberland was hit by a pitch with one out and stole second. Nick Benson then doubled in Cumberland.
Temple later hit a two-out, two-run double to give the Bulldogs a 5-0 lead and chase Miller from the game.
“Whenever I’m on the mound my focus is on my pitching, but it’s always nice to get a hit,” Temple said. “With two outs, I’m just trying to put the ball in play. He threw a fastball up and in and I was able to put a good swing on it and drive it in the gap.”
Miller pitched well until the Bulldogs finally put up the crooked number in the fifth.
“Miller gave his heart and soul out there,” Merced coach Justin Parle said. “We’ve still got some work to do with him. He’ll be the first one to tell you that. He’s got the potential to be a pretty special pitcher. He missed some spots today and they capitalized.”
Offensively, Merced could only manage five baserunners in Temple’s six innings of work.
“He’s impressive,” Parle said. “He has a live arm. What was most impressive was his ability to locate down. He got a lot of ground balls off his fastball.”
After stranding 10 runners the last game against Merced, including leaving the bases loaded twice, Turlock came up with the big hits on Friday.
“We had so many strikeouts the other day,” de la Motte said. “We worked on making contact, cutting down on our swing with two strikes and putting the ball in play.
“We haven’t been able to tack on runs and we did that a couple times today. We were able to keep it going with some big hits. Any time you’re able to do that you keep the momentum going.”