After Escalon High stunned a lineup of larger schools to win the Windemuth Classic a year ago, the Cougars knew it would be difficult to repeat.
"When I saw our schedule this year, I knew they wanted us to earn it if we were going to win it again," coach Greg Largent said. "Modesto, and a doubleheader with Turlock and Davis. That's a big job."
Escalon, No. 1 in The Bee's small-school rankings, was up to that task Wednesday.
Sophomore Trey Balber hit two home runs in the morning in a 7-4 upset of Turlock, The Bee's No. 1 large school, then sophomore Matt Valencia fired a six-hitter with 11 strikeouts to beat Davis 12-2.
Patrick Mulry, another of Escalon's sophomores was 3-for-5 with a career-high five RBIs in the win over Davis.
The large-school sweep put the Cougars (11-2) back in the title game. They visit upstart Downey (11-5) today at 3:30, one of the seven games today.
Downey is in the final despite a 3-2 loss to Redwood Christian, leaving itself, Redwood Christian and Enochs at 2-1. Downey advanced because it allowed the fewest runs, edging Redwood 5-6.
Bryce Nakai's RBI groundout in the bottom of the seventh got Downey within 3-2. The potential tying run got to second when Devon Gradford was safe on a two-out error, but Kyle Robinson grounded out to force the tie-breaker.
While Downey will go with sophomore Bobby Schauer (2-0), coming off his three-hit shutout of Beyer, Escalon likely will use three pitchers.
"We're counting on Johnny Staff," said Largent, who has already used his three regular starters this week. "We've got kids with three or four innings to pitch, so we might need to score a few runs, too."
Escalon vs. Turlock was the tournament's featured game, since it pitted the Stanislaus District's top-ranked teams in a David vs. Goliath match.
Turlock has two Division I stars (Vince Wheeland is off to Oklahoma State and junior Kevin Kramer has committed to UCLA), and was coming off a win over previously unbeaten Woods Cross of Utah, one of that state's best.
Turlock threw No. 2 starter David Herrera (4-2) and Spencer Franceschetti doubled in a run and scored for a 2-1 lead in the first. Balber, who made the varsity on the strength of his defense behind the plate, homered just beyond the left-center fence in the third.
With Escalon up 5-3 in the sixth, Balber belted a two-run homer that bounced off a storage shed a good 30 feet behind the 370-foot sign in center.
"I bat seventh so I usually see fastballs my first at-bat," said Balber, 0-for-3 with three strikeouts the previous day. "The second one hit the sweet spot and I knew it was gone. I was surprised when he came after me with another fastball."
Balber is one of four regulars hitting at least .400, and has seven doubles to go with his .407 average. He had two more hits in the second win.
"I have my ups and downs, like all those strikeouts (Monday), but hitting lower in the lineup takes the pressure off of me," Balber said. "But it's nice to have that sort of power in the bottom of a lineup."
The extra runs proved to be huge, as Turlock loaded the bases with two out in the seventh. With the potential tying run on, Wheeland -- a .412 hitter with seven doubles -- belted a deep fly down the right-field line that was well foul.
Wheeland, bat still in hand as he expected to get another swing, looked on in shock as right fielder Valencia came racing over to make a catch.
"What a way to end it," said Largent, who got a complete-game seven-hitter from Brandon Shaw (4-0). "Based loaded and here comes Matty, from nowhere, for a great catch.
"We wanted to represent Escalon in that game. Turlock is loaded with talent and has a great program. It was a heck of a win for these kids to get."