District's top teams resume title chases

When St. Mary's High decided to invest more into its athletic programs, with the goal of extending its name recognition beyond the Sac-Joaquin Section, girls' basketball and football were first to benefit.

The hoops team is an annual contender for state and national championships, while the football team has started producing Division 1 talent.

The baseball program, it appears, isn't very far behind. It has won two of the last three south sub-section titles, finishing second the other year.

Beyer (21-8) has an opportunity today to make a name for itself when it takes on the potent parochial-school Rams (23-6) of Stockton in the winners' bracket final at 7 p.m. at the University of the Pacific.

It's expected to be a battle of powerful left-handers: Freshman Trey Ridenour (6-2, 0.93 ERA) of Beyer and Cal-bound Louie Lechich (6-1, 1.65 ERA), a two-sport star at St. Mary's.

Both overwhelmed opening round foes: Ridenour tossed a two-hitter and retired the last 13 batters to beat Merced 9-1, Lechich allowed an infield single to beat Enochs 12-0.

There's no guarantee the all-lefty showdown will occur because both teams have No. 3 starters who could go. That would be surprising, though.

That's one of two games today: Turlock (21-7) faces Lincoln (21-7) at 4, and the loser of that games is going home.

The Beyer-St. Mary's winner gets a pass to Thursday's final, and would have to lose twice not to win the title. The loser plays the Turlock-Lincoln winner Wednesday, and the winner of the game goes to the championship game.

St. Mary's won the regional title in 2007 and 2009, but fell far short in the section finals. The Rams were swept in both best-of-three series, and were outscored 20-11 both times.

Beyer is as close as the city of Modesto gets to a perennial baseball power, and the Patriots have been to three section finals, the last one in 2000.

While St. Mary's has a title to its credit (1982), Beyer has yet to bring home a pennant.

Coach Steve Clark believes his pitching depth. Ridenour teams with lefty Kyle Crawford (4-1, 1.05 ERA) and righty Matt Jackson (7-2, 2.24) to provide options. With three-year starter Mason Ankeney catching, Beyer's team ERA is 2.43.

Regardless of who goes, it's a challenge: Lechich (.404, 30 RBIs), Alex Michaels (.482, 25 RBIs) and Mitchell Walding (.464, 34 runs) lead a powerful, deep lineup. Steve Patterson bats .355 and is second with 27 RBIs, and bats No. 8.

Turlock will go with Oklahoma-State bound star Vince Wheeland (11-0, 0.59) in a bid to keep its season alive.

In Division 5, Escalon (23-3) can clinch its best-of-three series vs. Livingston (20-7) with a win today at Zupo Field in Lodi. Escalon won Saturday's opener 10-0, and has two rested pitchers ready for tonight.

If Livingston wins, the winner-take-all game will follow.