Merced soph makes big splash in first varsity game

Kevin Carbajal leaned forward on the dugout rail, his cheeks flush, his voice rattling with adrenaline. A few days before, the sophomore center fielder had been zipping around the base paths for the Merced junior varsity. Wednesday, he was trying to describe his first varsity moment.

One word sprung to mind: Wow.

Carbajal rallied Merced to a 4-3 win Wednesday, stumbling home with the game-winning run after Pitman botched a pick-off play in the sixth inning.

"Coming out here, I knew this was going to be a new thing -- first time playing against 18-year-olds," Carbajal said. "I was a little nervous, but pretty stoked to be out here."

Merced might be thin on experience and depth, but skipper Lou Souza's kids proved one thing Wednesday: they're going to be a tough out in the Central California Conference.

Matthew Farias collected two hits, including an RBI double in the second inning, and Andrew Jaurique went the distance as Merced took the opening game of its home-and-home series with Pitman (4-1 CCC, 12-8). The loss is Pitman's first in conference and fourth straight.

The win had deeper significance for Merced (3-0, 8-10), which snapped a five-game losing streak.

Merced dismissed several players over the Easter break for violating team rules. To fill holes, Souza reached into his junior varsity team -- calling up Carbajal, Alex Hobbs, Justin Alva, Derek Slate, Alec Winn and Sean Conway.

Four started Wednesday, but none had a bigger impact than Carbajal, who turned in a one-man rally with score tied at 4 in the sixth. He reached on an infield single, slapping a Kevin Walker fastball deep into the hole between shortstop and third.

Moments later, Pitman ushered him around with a flurry of throwing errors.

Carbajal stole second easily when the pick-off throw sailed into center field. He started toward third, but stumbled to a stop halfway there.

"It looked like they had me in a pickle," he said. Nearly.

The relay throw from center field skipped away from third baseman Alex Rodriguez, and Souza waved home his sophomore.

"He forced Pitman to play catch," said Souza. "The ball caromed off and we scored. You could say we were fortunate."

Jaurique bounced back from a rocky first inning and finished with nine strikeouts in a complete game.

The junior left-hander gave up seven hits, issued three walks and plunked one batter, but managed to hold Pitman scoreless over the final four innings.

James Burns is managing editor/sports editor of the Merced Sun-Star. E-mail: