Those boxing gloves hanging in the corner of Enochs High's dugout aren't just for show.
"I tell our kids that those gloves are there to explain to them the mentality we need," said coach Matt Brown, whose squad has struggled to finish off opponents. "We've had so many games where we let other teams get back up."
It nearly happened again Friday, before J.T. Boles triggered a three-run rally in the sixth to lead Enochs to an 8-6 Modesto Metro Conference win over first-place Downey.
The decision left Downey (14-7 overall, 7-2 MMC) and Beyer (15-6, 7-2) tied atop the MMC, with Enochs (11-10, 5-4) two games back with six to play. Only the top two advance to the playoffs.
"This was a game we had to win to have any hope of the playoffs," said Brown, whose club lost 1-0 to Downey on Thursday. "Our record says we're a .500 team, which is frustrating because our talent is much better than that."
Enochs is in its third year as a varsity program, but Brown has had high expectations because the school draws from the baseball-rich neighborhoods in northeast Modesto. He expected the Eagles to compete for a conference title, but probably wasn't expecting Downey to be in the race.
This could be the Knights' most talented team since 1992, when Tony Graziani — who went on to play quarterback in the NFL — led them to the Sac-Joaquin Section final. It had been a long, lean stretch prior to this season, including a 28-74 record the last four years.
Downey had won six straight MMC games, its other loss was to Enochs, and now the Knights need to show that they can rebound.
"We just talked about the need to come back next week and beat Davis," said coach Kreg Moore, whose club will likely face Davis ace Jake Sisco on Tuesday. "It will take 10 or 11 wins to make the playoffs, so we are right there."
It looked like they would earn another win after Kyle Robinson and Cody Simar had two-run singles in the fourth for a 6-4 lead. Enochs had scored four in the bottom of the third.
"That's been our problem. We score four to go ahead, then give them right back," Brown said. "We walk the 8-9 hitters, then give up 0-2 hits to the 1-2 hitters. We faced our test then."
Enochs had a chance to regain the lead after loading the bases with none out in the fifth. Downey third baseman Clay Welch dove to stop a ball and got the force at the plate, however, and shortstop Devon Gradford went far to his left to snare a ball and start a 6-4-3 double play that preserved Downey's 6-5 lead.
"Do we come back from that? That was a big thing we needed to show today," Brown said.
Boles tripled into the right-field corner to open the sixth and scored on Nick Romero's grounder to second. Downey had brought its infield in and Logan Garrett mistakenly went home even though Boles was scoring easily. That proved huge, because Romero would score the go-ahead run on Kevin Dix's single.
"We're getting tired of beating ourselves," said Brown, who noted the Eagles struck out only twice and forced Downey into three errors. "We put the ball in play, putting the pressure on the defense. With the way we hit the ball, I like our chances the next few weeks."