Braiden Ward provided a spark atop the El Capitan High School lineup all season with his ability to get on base, steal and score runs.
So Ward was the perfect hitter to lead off the seventh inning with the South looking for someone to ignite its offense.
Ward delivered with a leadoff triple, sparking a four-run inning as the South went on to defeat the North 5-2 in the seventh annual Merced County All-Star Baseball Game on Saturday night in front of a large crowd at Merced College.
“I’ve kind of been a spark all year, and I knew I had to to get on some way,” said Ward, who was named the South Player of the Game after going 2 for 2 with two runs and a stolen base. “I knew if I could get on I had great guys hitting behind me. Guys like (Merced’s) Josh May. I have all the confidence in the world if I can get on, he can drive me in with a double.”
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Ward hit an 0-1 pitch from Gustine’s Oliver Perez to left-center field for a triple. Perez then walked May and hit Merced’s Tanner Pellissier to load the bases with no outs.
Sonora’s Joe Montelongo chopped a single over a draw-in infield to score Ward and May. North center fielder Eddie Avila (Livingston) tried to throw out May at the plate, but his throw sailed to the backstop, allowing Pellissier to score to give the South a 3-1 lead.
Dos Palos’ Ozzie Suarez later drew a bases-loaded walk from Perez to extend the lead to 4-1.
The four-run outburst came after pitching and defense dominated the game for six innings.
The North’s Nick Singer (Buhach Colony), Blake Jantz (Livingston) and Ubaldo Romo (Buhach Colony) each threw two scoreless innings and limited the South to two hits through six innings.
Meanwhile, Sai Davuluri (El Capitan), Trevor Phillips (Merced) and May combined to pitched six scoreless innings for the South. Phillips delivered three scoreless innings and used the same approach he does every time he takes the mound.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Every time I pitch I use the same game plan. I want to throw first-pitch strikes and get ahead of the batter.”
The defense also shined with Los Banos’ Kevin Spencer making nice plays in the infield for the North and Hilmar’s Alex Chavez robbing Mariposa’s Joseph Freitas of a line-drive single with a diving catch in left field in the sixth.
Ward made some nice plays at shortstop, and Pellissier made a running catch on a foul ball right by the third-base dugout in the seventh.
The North finally broke the scoreless tie in the seventh. With two outs, Romo drew a walk. After Los Banos’ James Bostick drew another walk from Le Grand’s Beto Marquez, Gustine’s Kevin Medeiros (2 for 2) delivered an RBI single to right.
Bostick tried to score, but Golden Valley’s Caleb Lopez got the ball into the infield and Ward threw out Bostick at the plate to keep the lead at 1-0.
After the South answered with four runs in the seventh, the North threatened another big inning in the eighth. Spencer led off with a single, and one out later, Perez singled and Buhach Colony’s Christian Witt walked to load the bases.
Hilmar’s Preston Costa followed with a single to drive in Spencer to cut the deficit to 4-2.
However, Mariposa’s Jake Williams got out of the inning when Delhi’s Aiden Rocha hit a comebacker, which Williams grabbed and threw home, and Dos Palos catcher Nathan Flores fired to first for a double play.
Mariposa left-hander Morgan Hughes, who closed the Grizzlies’ Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI title game against Ripon Christian on May 30, closed the North in the ninth with three strikeouts.
Even though he was on the losing end, Jantz had a great time hanging out with the other all-stars.
“It was fun,” said Jantz, who was named the Player of the Game for the North. “It was one of the best experiences I’ve had.”
“Honestly, at first, with us sharing playing time, I didn’t think I would enjoy it that much,” he said. “I enjoyed my whole time from the time we showed up for the meal to batting practice to the game. I made new friends tonight I wouldn’t have made sitting at home.”
The North leads the series 4-3.
A team made up of North and South players will come together as a Merced County All-Star team to face a Stanislaus County All-Star team on Friday. The game is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. at Merced College.
Merced County All-Star Game
South 5, North 2
Nick Singer, Blake Jantz (3), Ubaldo Romo (5), Oliver Perez (7), Kody Cardoza (8), Mike Casso (8). Sai Davuluri, Trevor Phillips (3), Josh May (6), Beto Marquez (7), Jake Williams (8), Morgan Hughes (9). WP – Marquez. LP – Perez. SV – Hughes.
North – Jantz 1-2, Kevin Medeiros 2-2 (RBI), Trent Mallonee 1-1, Kevin Spencer 1-2 (run), Perez 1-2, Preston Costa 2-2 (RBI).
South – Braiden Ward 2-2 (3B, 2 runs, SB), Joe Montelongo 1-2 (run, 2 RBIs), Sammy Mora 1-1, Chase Whitaker 1-1.