STOCKTON — Seeing freshman left-hander Trey Ridenour take the mound Wednesday brought back memories for Beyer High coach Steve Clark.
"Good memories," Clark smiled. "The last time we started a freshman to open the playoffs was six years ago, when we threw Kyle Barrett. That's pretty good, huh?"
Ridenour was every bit as dominant as Barrett was six years ago, as the 6-foot-3 hurler baffled Merced with his variety of pitches and retired the final 13 batters in a 9-1 victory at the University of the Pacific.
Beyer (20-8) advances to Friday's second round, where it will face Lincoln (21-6) at 7 p.m. Turlock (21-6) plays St. Mary's (21-6) at 4, as the tournament shifts to a double-elimination format. The first-round losers were eliminated.
"Trey's not like other freshmen, not with the big games he's already thrown for us this year," said Clark, noting Ridenour pitched against state power Bullard and also threw in the prestigious Santa Maria Tournament. "He can handle the pressure."
Ridenour was confident, as well, though he wavered a bit when he hit Merced's Andrew Jaurique with his first pitch of the game. Jaurique then got a big jump to steal second, and scored on cleanup hitter Drake Burch's looping single over second.
The Bears stole second base three times in the first two innings, with the runner taking a walking lead before taking off. Stealing bases has become a big part of the Bears' offense since their roster was depleted: They stole 10 in one game last week.
They didn't get another after the second, though: It's difficult to steal when no one can get on. Merced's only hit in the final five innings was Matthew Farias' double off the left-field fence in the third, and the next batter popped out to end the inning.
Barrett was a four-year star for Beyer and is now pitching at Fresno Pacific. Though their debuts were similar, they are physically very different pitchers: Ridenour is thin and lanky, Barrett husky and compact. Ridenour is aware of the comparisons with Barrett, and he did his best to meet those expectations.
"I got kinda shaky when I hit the first batter, but I felt a lot better when we started scoring some runs," said Ridenour, who struck out nine and walked only one. "Once you get a few runs behind you, it gives you a good boost."
While Ridenour was frustrating the Bears, Beyer broke through against Merced's ace for three runs in the third and then blew it open with five in the sixth.
"We usually hit a pitcher in our second and third time through the lineup," said Stephen Roy, who doubled, tripled and drove in three runs. "The first time I saw him, I could see he loved to throw the curve in the dirt, especially with two strikes."
Merced didn't play Beyer this season, but Bears coach Lou Souza used his contacts to compile a scouting report: That homework paid off immediately.
Souza pitched around cleanup hitter Garrett Roberts in the first inning, even though it meant loading the bases with one out, because he felt Jaurique's diverse pitch selection could overwhelm the less experienced Nos. 5 and 6 hitters.
He was right: Jaurique struck out Roy on a changeup, with Roy swinging under the pitch, and Kaden Cline to escape the jam.
Roy learned from that at-bat, however.
The 6-foot, 270-pound Roy came up in the third with runners on second and third — the result of a double steal by Kyle Crawford and Mason Ankeney — and belted a 2-2 curve up the left-center gap to drive in two runs. Cline hit the next pitch up the right-center gap to make it 3-1.
"I had let a good strike go by in my first at-bat, and that upset me," said Roy, who tripled and scored on a throwing error in the fifth to make it 4-1. "I was watching for the curve in the dirt when he got two strikes, making sure not to go after it."
Beyer was playing for an insurance run after No. 7 hitter Jacob Scott singled to open the sixth. Matt Jackson put down a sacrifice bunt, but reached base when Jaurique mishandled the ball. Another sacrifice bunt was also mishandled by Jaurique, loading the bases for leadoff hitter Connor Torres.
He also put down a bunt, and Merced again misplayed the ball as a run scored. Crawford put down a fourth consecutive bunt, with the base loaded, and it squirted between two infielders for a single and a 6-1 lead. After Garrett Roberts' RBI single, Roy lofted a high pop-up in foul territory behind first base. Farias caught the ball and threw to the plate in an attempt to catch Crawford trying to score, but his throw sailed into the dugout and two runs came in.
"We wanted to play small ball to get the run, but also to put some pressure on their defense," Clark said. "The suicide and safety squeeze worked great. We just kept putting the ball, and that's how you get three or four runs."