Oakdale takes Div. 4 section baseball title

LODI -- Preparation was as important as anything that took place on the field Monday, and it's the reason Oakdale High is celebrating a third Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 championship title in four years.

"We scouted El Dorado during the playoffs and had some good ideas about what to expect," coach Honda Aproika said. "We positioned our outfielders based on that."

The reconnaissance was invaluable.

Oakdale rolled to an early lead and averted a potential disaster late in the game for a 9-4 upset of El Dorado -- ranked No. 2 in the medium-school division by CalHiSports.

Brennon Williams (9-2), a junior lefty who scattered five singles and survived a rocky 5ª innings, credited center fielder Mark Ortiz for saving him some runs.

"That guy's a stud out in center because he's so quick and he catches anything coming his way," said Williams, who earned three of Oakdale's four playoff wins. "A couple of those looked like hits."

Ortiz, who was positioned differently for every batter based on assistant coach Joe Peterson's scouting report, was able to turn three potential hits by El Dorado (27-3) into outs.

It was play that went against the scouting report that was Ortiz's most spectacular.

With two on and one out in the fifth, Kyle Buchanan -- No. 2 in the section with 10 homers -- hit one deep in the right-center gap. Ortiz, in the left-center gap expecting the righty to pull the ball, dashed 30 yards while El Dorado's fans began to cheer what they expected to be a bases-clearing triple.

Ortiz, extending his glove to cover for the final few feet, stabbed the line drive with his glove. Williams struck out the cleanup hitter to end the inning and keep it 9-2.

That was crucial, because El Dorado rallied in the sixth. The score was 9-4, and the bases were loaded with Buchanan batting.

Lefty Matt Butler had relieved Williams after a hit batter and two walks loaded the bases. El Dorado's Buchanan fell behind 0-2 and eventually grounded out slowly to third.

"It was supposed to be a fastball outside, but it ran in on him," Butler said. "He didn't get a good swing. I've been in this situation before, closing a tight game, but never while playing for a championship."

The pressure was evident.

Butler walked two of the first three batters he faced, then threw to second base -- rather than home for a force-out and a potential double play -- on a two-hop comebacker.

"When I went in the dugout between innings, I was able to settle down," said Butler, who struck out the final two batters in the seventh to seal the victory. "It's been a lot of fun being the closer, because you know it's going to be intense any time you come in."

The scouting report clearly provided some tips on how to hit El Dorado ace Chris Rickon, as well. The righty was 10-1 with a 1.99 ERA, and had not allowed more than three earned runs in any of his 13 starts.

The Mustangs got nine runs and nine hits in their four-plus innings vs. Rickon.

Williams tripled in a run in the first and Tanner Combs made it 2-0 with a double to left. After failing to exploit a bases-loaded situation in the second, No. 9 hitter Braydon Stephens doubled in a run in the fourth and trotted home on Williams' single -- and a second run scored on an error.

Oakdale blew it open in the fifth, as Rickon walked three batters in a row with two out. Leadoff hitter Matt Butler's infield single plated one -- a throwing error on the play scored another -- then Kody Simmons doubled off the center-field wall for two more.

Williams' performance at the plate took away some of the sting from his surprisingly wild start. He allowed only five singles to El Dorado -- a team that bats .359 and averages eight runs a game -- but struggled with his control.

"I never found my rhythm, which was frustrating," said Williams, who stormed off the mound and went to right field in the sixth. "I wasn't upset at coach or anyone else. I was pissed at myself. I've got to pitch better than I did in a game this important."