One set the table at the top of the lineup, leading the team in batting average, runs and stolen bases while playing brilliantly at shortstop.
The other was the staff ace, delivering big performances in key games and getting key hits in the middle of the lineup.
How do you pick the better of the two?
El Capitan High School coach Aaron Ruiz wanted no part of it.
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“How do you choose between the league’s Offensive Player of the Year and the league’s Pitcher of the Year?” Ruiz asked.
We couldn’t decide, either, so we named El Capitan’s Braiden Ward and Sai Davuluri as the Sun-Star’s Co-Baseball Players of the Year.
The duo led El Capitan (22-8) to the Western Athletic Conference championship and the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV title game, in which the Gauchos fell to Lincoln 6-2.
“We worked hard since the very start,” Ward said. “We did those crossfit training sessions during the preseason to hell week to our last practice. Our mind was set on getting to sections. We took baby steps all the way.”
Ward was the tone setter for the Gauchos. The speedster always seemed to be on base to ignite rallies. The junior, who has verbally committed to Washington, finished with a .457 batting average, 43 runs and 27 stolen bases.
“He’s the spark plug of our team,” Davuluri said. “When he gets up – in our mind – he’s already on. We’re already thinking past that because it seems like he’s always on base. He’s a big confidence boost for us. He takes a lot of pressure off the top of our lineup.”
Ward knew his role.
“I filled the role of the speedy leadoff guy,” Ward said. “My job was to get on base and cause havoc. I tried to get on base any way I could and put as much pressure on the defense as I could.”
Ward had fun doing it. As an only child, he’s used to getting attention. He felt it was his job to help keep the team loose with jokes and comments.
“He’s not very serious,” Ruiz said. “I’ve harped on that a bit with him. Technically, he’s not one of our captains, and I like that. He’s happy-go-lucky. He speaks with no filter. But he definitely lightens up the mood.”
Davuluri has a more straightforward approach and leads by example. His role became more important when right-hander Tyler Skelton injured a finger and was unable to pitch for most of the second half of the season.
“Tyler was our Friday guy,” Davuluri said. “Once that happened, I had to go about my business and do what I could do. I didn’t try to add any pressure. I tried to keep everything the same.”
The junior right-hander, who has verbally committed to Dartmouth, finished with a 10-1 record, a 1.26 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 72 innings. He also contributed with the bat, hitting .367, scoring 25 runs and leading the team with 23 RBIs and 11 doubles.
“Sai was our ace, especially with Tyler (Skelton) going down,” Ward said. “We needed him to be the best he could be. He’s a guy going to Dartmouth, he’s a D-I pitcher, and that’s how he pitched for us.”
Said Ruiz: “You start talking about playmakers, guys you want to step up, that’s what these two brought to our team. Sai’s presence on the hill was calming for us. He had ice water in his veins. We knew he was going to give it his all when he pitched. He was voted one of our captains, and it’s not because he’s very verbal. It’s because he does everything right. He’s the quiet, strong type. He leads by example.
“Braiden at shortstop, he could cover the whole infield if need be from left to right. He was also our leader on offense. When we needed a hit or someone on base, he was always there.”
All-Area Baseball Team
Nick Singer, senior, Buhach Colony
Kyle Moniz, senior, Merced
Caleb Lopez, senior, Golden Valley
Jacob Alarcon, senior, Merced
Ubaldo Romo, senior, Buhach Colony
Brandon LaBry, senior, Gustine
Jake Williams, senior, Mariposa
Josh May, senior, Merced
Jarrod Willis, senior, Hilmar
Blake Jantz, senior, Livingston
Tyler Wilson, senior, Los Banos
Tanner Pellissier, junior, Merced
Tyler Skelton, senior, El Capitan
Trevor Phillips, senior, Merced
Mike Casso, junior, Buhach Colony
Chase Whitaker, junior, El Capitan
Coach – Aaron Ruiz, El Capitan