SACRAMENTO — It had been two years since Justin Jones walked off the mound with a loss. It might take that long for Oakdale High's senior to forget about the one he took Wednesday.
"What disappoints me the most is that this loss means it's all over at Oakdale," said Jones, a lefty who brought a two-year mark of 23-0 into the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinal. "This has been like a family to me. Now it's time to move on."
Jones was hurt by a defense that committed three errors and a baserunning blunder in the bottom of the seventh — with the potential tying run on third — and ended his high school career with a 4-3 loss to Placer.
The victory gave Placer (19-8) a two-game sweep in the best-of-three series, sending the Hillmen into Monday's section final and sending the Mustangs (25-5) home. Placer also eliminated the Oakdale football team during last fall's controversial playoffs.
Oakdale pursued a third straight section title, but that bid took a big hit two weeks ago when Nick Vander Tuig went to the bench with a sore shoulder. It was a double-whammy: The San Jose State-committed junior was 8-1 on the mound and a .405 hitter at the plate.
"Taking our cleanup hitter out of the lineup, that forced us into some changes," coach Hondo Arpoika said. "We had kids move into new spots. Some worked, some didn't. It's disappointing to see that these kids didn't win it again."
Oakdale lost to Placer 4-2 in Saturday's opener, with a very similar script: a lack of timely hits, fielding errors and mental mistakes.
The big one came with two outs in the seventh, runners on first and third, and Tanner Combs at the plate. Combs was 2-for-2, including an RBI double in the second, but he never got a chance to swing the bat.
Craig Lefebvre, who was at first after drawing a two-out walk, bolted for second base in an attempt to distract pitcher Matt Ross. It worked, as Ross turned to the right side — and pinch-runner Brennan Williams sprinted toward the plate.
"The plan was to break early and get caught in a rundown, while the runner from third scores to tie the game," Arpoika said.
Lefebvre never stopped, though, running into the tag of second baseman Matt Ryan as he approached second base — with the runner from third still 20 feet from the plate.
"It was an honest mistake. We had a plan, but sometimes in the heat of the game, it doesn't work right," Arpoika said.
Ross excelled against Oakdale all year. He threw two touchdown passes in November at the Corral when the Hillmen — handed a playoff berth via a court injunction — stunned the Mustangs during the first round of the playoffs.
Jones (11-1, 0.42 ERA), who has signed a letter of intent with Cal and is expected to be taken in the upcoming pro baseball draft, didn't allow an earned run.
He went seven innings, striking out nine, walking two and allowing six hits — four of them in Placer's three-run third.
Oakdale was a good throw from getting out of the third without any runs scoring.
With one out, Jones had Ryan picked off first base and Ryan took off for second. The throw from first, however, sailed into left field.
After a strikeout, leadoff hitter Jordan Arndt beat out an infield single.
After Arndt stole second, Ross lined a single to right to drive in Ryan — and Arndt scored when the right fielder overran the ball. Joel Thys doubled in Ross for a 3-1 lead.
Oakdale had an opportunity to overtake the Hillmen in the bottom of the fourth, when Lefebvre doubled to right-center with the Mustangs trailing 3-1.
Consecutive walks to Combs and Johnny Shatswell loaded the bases, and Placer brought the infield for a play at the plate.
No. 9 hitter Eddie McGrath swung at the first pitch, trying to pull it rather than take the outside pitch to right field.
As a result, he hit a slow chopper to short and Ross threw to the plate for the second out. Vince Helms nearly duplicated the at-bat, as he, too, swung at the first pitch and grounded to short for a forceout to end the inning.
Placer came right back in the top of the fifth to add another run, as a wide throw to first base with two outs brought in the Hillmen's fourth run.
The Mustangs didn't help their cause by stranding runners in scoring position in the first and second innings.