The El Capitan High baseball team pushed top-seeded Tracy to the brink of elimination. The Gauchos were two outs away from knocking off the heavily favored Bulldogs.
However, Tracy (22-4) rallied twice to erase one-run deficits in the final two innings to save their season with a 6-5 win over No. 9 El Capitan (14-13) in eight innings in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South playoffs on Thursday night at the University of the Pacific’s Klein Family Field.
Tracy’s Chandlyr Metal drew a walk with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth inning to force in the game-winning run.
“This is what we expected,” said El Capitan coach Aaron Ruiz, about the back and forth swings that filled the matchup with drama late into the night. “This is what we’ve been preaching. It’s not going to be easy when you get in the playoffs. It’s tough for both sides.”
The Bulldogs came in as heavy favorites for good reason.
Tracy had a bye in the first round, so ace Cody Bolton, who has signed with the University of Michigan and had half of a dozen scouts watching every pitch he threw on Thursday night, got the start on the mound. Bolton came into the game with an 8-1 record and 0.57 ERA.
El Capitan had to win its way to UOP and its ace Sai Davuluri was playing third base after throwing a complete game against Beyer on Monday.
Chase Whitaker got the start for the Gauchos and he struggled with his command early. The senior right-hander gave up three runs after walking five and surrendering three hits in the first two innings.
After Whitaker walked Lee Brewer to load the bases in the second inning, Ruiz called upon right-hander Mark Sellers in relief.
Sellers struck out Andrew Tavares to get out of the jam and keep the deficit at 3-1 after two innings.
The Guachos offense was hot early, scoring a run in the first on an infield single by Elijah Reid that scored Braiden Ward.
Ward and Reid played big roles in the Gauchos three-run rally in the third inning. Ward singled and then stole second. One out later, Sai Davuluri singled to left to drive in Ward to cut Tracy’s lead to 3-2.
Chase Whitaker followed with a long double to left to put two runners in scoring position. Reid came through again, this time with a single up the middle to score two runs to give El Capitan a 4-3 lead.
Then Sellers went to work, shutting out Tracy’s potent offense four consecutive innings, retiring 10 consecutive hitters at one point.
“I felt they got a lot more quiet as the game went a long,” said Sellers. “They were losing confidence. We should have kept putting it on them.”
The Gauchos attitude changed during the game as well.
“We came in thinking about senior ditch day tomorrow,” said Ward. “After we scored first we thought we got a chance. Then as we’re trying to close it out, we thought we could beat this team.
“I have buddies on Oakdale and St. Mary’s and they were telling me about Cody Bolton. You look on MaxPreps and you see Tracy has like 24 home runs. It can be a little intimidating.”
The Gauchos took the 4-3 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning. Sellers struck out the first batter in the seventh, but Tracy leadoff hitter Josh Alvarado hit a single. Nathan George then hit a towering fly ball deep into the darkness. El Capitan left fielder Dylan Webber tried to track it down and make an over-the-shoulder catch, but the ball fell to the ground and Alvarado raced home to tie the game on George’s triple.
“That’s a tough play,” Ruiz said. “Dylan Webber is playing his butt off out there. That big wall seems to go on forever. It’s our first game ever here. Just a tough play.”
With the winning run on third with one out in the seventh, Ruiz elected to intentionally walking the next two hitters to load the bases.
The strategy worked out as Sellers got a pop out for the second out. Ward and Chase Minor then combined on a game-saving play as Ward made a diving stop at shortstop on a tough ball off the bat of Clayton Borges. Ward then fired a one-hopper to first that was picked by Minor for the out.
The Gauchos regained the lead at 5-4 in the eighth inning when Minor drew a bases-loaded walk with two outs.
Tracy battled back again, with one out and a runner on second, Christian Rosette dropped a bunt in front of the mound. Sellers fielded the ball, but sailed his throw to first, allowing Evan Hoyt to score from second base to tie the game at 5-5.
After a balk advanced Rosette to third base with one out, Ruiz against intentionally walked the next two hitters to load the bases. However, this time Sellers walked Metal on a 3-2 fastball to force in the winning run.
“We put our backs against the wall,” Ruiz. “We’ve got to be able to step up and work our way out of the jam. We did a good job in the (seventh inning). We knew we were in a different part of their lineup the next time. It didn’t work the second time.”
There weren’t many sad faces for the Gauchos as their season was suddenly over. They were proud they took the top team in the tournament down to the wire.
“I’ve played travel ball for my whole life,” Ward said. “I’ve probably played thousands of games, but this is the game I’ll remember. I’m going to remember it because we took the top seed all the way to the end. We did it by clawing back into the game and we did it as brothers.”