Modesto builds a lead, then holds off Enochs

With the bases loaded and no out in the bottom of the seventh, and his team clinging to a three-run lead, Modesto High coach Daryl Galloway needed a pitcher to come in and throw strikes.

"We had a game like this last year against Enochs," Galloway said. "We led 10-5 going into the seventh inning, but lost 14-10. I didn't want to see that again."

So he called on John Brandt, a reliable reliever who hadn't allowed a run in his last three appearances, to set down the heart of Enochs' power-laden lineup.

That included cleanup hitter Brian Dix and Mitch Kelly, in the No. 5 hole to prevent teams from pitching around Dix. The Eagles' top two hitters, both are capable of clearing the fences.

Brandt kept both inside the park, though, retiring them on long line drives and then ending it with a catch of his own to seal a stunning 7-5 win at Enochs.

"I don't want us to get too far ahead of ourselves, but I think it was a big win today," Galloway said. "We've put together four solid games in a row, and I think that's really going to help these kids build up their confidence."

The win didn't come without plenty of excitement, however.

Starter Jesse Cruz (2-1) took a 7-4 lead into the seventh. Facing the top of the lineup, he gave up two walks and a single. Brandt, with a 1.56 ERA in four relief appearances, knew the situation.

Dix is a beast at the plate with four homers and 12 RBIs, Kelly bats .500 and his 11 RBIs are second to Dix. No. 6 hitter Donnie Fairchilds is a .400 hitter over the last three games.

Brandt retired all three batters, but none were easy outs.

Dix hit a liner that left fielder Anthony Salinas ran down, but it was deep enough to get in a run to make it 7-5. After a wild pitch put runners on second and third, Kelly blasted a similar shot to right -- but Zach Yoppini saved the day.

Not only did Yoppini make a fine running catch, a quick throw to catcher Zach Snowden convinced the runner on third to hold. Had the runners moved up, the potential tying run would have been 90 feet away -- adding even more pressure to an already tense situation.

Fairchilds then ripped a liner up the middle, but Brandt threw his glove in front of the ball. His move of self-preservation produced the last out.

"We've emphasized defense so I'm proud of that seventh inning," said Galloway, whose Panthers (3-6-2, 1-2 MMC) nearly upset conference-leading Beyer on Tuesday.

While the combination of pitching and defense was impressive -- Enochs was averaging 11.5 runs over its previous four games -- Modesto owed this win to its lineup.

Enochs (6-5, 2-1) had no solution for No. 3 hitter Calvin Thomas, 4-for-5 with a double and two RBIs. His RBI single capped a four-run fifth, making it 7-4. Modesto's top hitter a year ago, Thomas is tearing up pitchers this spring with his .417 average and power. He had a bad at-bat Thursday, a pop fly to second on his second trip to the plate, but quickly corrected that flaw.

"I dipped when I swung at it, a little too anxious," Thomas said. "I've got to stay back and wait for that pitch to come in to me. I focused on that for the rest of the game."

Thomas had hits in his final three at-bats. His run-scoring single in the fifth followed a two-run single by Brandt, which had snapped a 4-all tie.

"It's good to see us hitting," said Thomas, whose club was batting .237 before getting nine hits versus Enochs. "That's what we had been missing."