MERCED — Scott Eldridge wanted the ball.
The senior right-hander asked if he could make Wednesday's start against Golden Valley in a meeting with Merced coach Lou Souza earlier this week.
Eldridge didn't disappoint. He attacked the strike zone with fastballs, changeups and curveballs, and Golden Valley hitters struggled to make solid contact.
Eldridge gave up just four hits as Merced moved a step closer to securing a playoff spot with a 3-1 win over Golden Valley. The Central California Conference's No. 2 seed will open the playoffs against Modesto Metro Conference champion Beyer.
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Eldridge worked quickly and used his defense. He had only two strikeouts — 17 of the 21 outs came via groundballs.
"It's like we talked about, our seniors are going to decide it," said Souza, whose team is 7-4 in the CCC. "We met this week and talked about the possibility of trying to get a couple innings out of one of our younger guys. He said, 'Coach, just give me the ball.'
"He pitched great. He pitched to contact. He mixed his pitches. He changed speeds. He kept the ball off the barrel of the bat."
Meanwhile, Merced's offense tore up the basepaths. Souza saw something he could exploit either out of the delivery of GV's Tyler Arnsberg or catcher Daniel Hermosillo, and his Bears stole 10 bases.
"We want to be aggressive," Souza said. "You don't want to keep anything back at this point."
Merced has a one-game lead over Buhach Colony (6-5 CCC) with one game to play. It can clinch the spot with a win over GV or a Buhach Colony loss.
If Merced and BC finish tied at 7-5, a coin clip will determine which team gets the CCC's final berth.
"We've got to come out and play the same way," Souza said. "We can't count on Buhach Colony losing.
"We don't want to deal with a coin flip. I've been through that before. It's not fun."