Los Banos High baseball coach Patrick Fuentes hadn’t met Max Ramirez until the senior showed up on campus on the first day of school. Ramirez had transferred from Watsonville.
“He showed up and said, ‘Coach, I’m a pitcher,’ Fuentes said.
Ramirez doesn’t have the protypical pitcher frame. The right-hander stands 5-feet, 9-inches tall and Fuentes says “he may weigh 145 pounds with wet boots on.”
“When you see him for the first time you’ll be like ’are you sure that’s Max?’” Fuentes said. “’Are you sure that’s the kid?’ And then you see him run it up there at 85 or 87 mph. He works his butt off. The kid’s a gamer.”
Ramirez quickly impressed the Tigers coaches during fall ball and earned a spot in the Tigers rotation. Together with four-year starter Kody Cardoza, the duo have given Los Banos a pair of aces who have spearheaded a 15-1 start to the season for the Tigers.
Cardoza went the distance on the mound on Monday, leading the Tigers to a 10-1 win over Ceres. Cardoza gave up just four hits and struck out 10 as the Tigers won their 11th consecutive gave and improved to 9-0 in the Western Athletic Conference.
It was just another dominant performance in a season that has seen the Tigers not give up more than two runs in any game this season. Los Banos has outscored its opponents 145 to 12 in 16 games this season and outscored WAC opponents 91 to 4 in nine games.
“I think it’s one of the better seasons Los Banos has had in a while,” Ramirez said. “It’s been back and forth with me and Kody. We feel like we’re unhittable right now.”
Fuentes knew what he had in Cardoza, who’s been one of the top pitchers in Merced County since he was a freshman. At 6-4, 220 pounds, Cardoza has the build of a workhorse pitcher.
Cardoza is 8-1 with a 0.58 ERA. He’s stuck out 73 hitters in just over 48 innings pitched this season.
“I’m used to having Kody for four years,” Fuentes said. “It sucks to say, but I expect this from him.”
The Tigers only loss this season was a 1-0 loss to Buhach Colony in which the Thunder had just two hits and scored a run in the bottom of the seventh inning off a Cardoza, who was perfect through the first six innings.
“It’s pretty crazy that our team ERA is not even at one,” Cardoza said. “That tells you nobody is squaring up the ball.”
Ramirez has yet to give up an earned run in 27 and 1/3 innings this season. He’s surrendered just two unearned runs. He’s 6-0 with 44 strikeouts.
“The sad thing is I have give good arms,” Fuentes said. “With those two guys going it’s tough to get other guys in. Last week (against Johansen) they both had no-hitters going through three innings. I pulled them with no-hitters and we had combined no-hitters in both games.
“It’s not just those two, but the staff as a whole with be good when the playoffs come. The other guys will get their opportunity.”
The Tigers No. 3 pitcher Landon Ramos hasn’t surrendered a run in just over 11 innings so far this season. Juniors Holden Pimentel and Sebastian Arrechavala are also waiting in the wings.
Add an offense — which includes reigning Sun-Star Player of the Year Trent Mallonee — that is hitting .359 as a team and is averaging close to 10 runs per game, and you see why Los Banos has its sights set on an elusive Sac-Joaquin Section championship.
After a second-round exit last year and first-round losses the previous two years, the Tigers are looking to make a deep run. The Tigers have only one section title in their history and it came in 1994.
“We want to get to the highest level as possible,” Cardoza said. “We want a section title. We’ve been trying for it for four years. We just have to keep putting the pedal to the medal like we have been. We need to keep pitching and hitting like we can.”