Atwater High’s Gunnar Kale had been slumping at the plate. The Falcons junior was just 3 for his last 18 when he stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning Friday night.
However, that’s the beauty of baseball. You’re always just one swing away.
Kale delivered the game-winning hit in dramatic fashion with a walk-off double to give the No. 3 seeded Falcons a 2-1 win over No. 6 Manteca in front of a large crowd at Memorial Ballpark.
“Everyone knows I’ve been struggling,” Kale said. “I was just trying to put a good swing on it. Like I said, it felt good off the bat. I was watching the left fielder and I pretty much missed first base. It felt good to see the ball get over him.
“That’s pretty much my best baseball moment right there. I’ve never had a game where there were so many up and downs with emotion and still come out with a win.”
Kale was swarmed by his teammates after pinch-runner Xavier Ponce came in to score the winning run.
“I would say that’s probably one of the best moments since I’ve been here,” said Atwater coach Jarrod Pimentel, who’s in his 12th season running the Falcons program. “We’re not a flashy team by any means, but we just find a way to win.”
Atwater improved to 24-4 and kept alive its bid to win the school’s first section baseball championship. The Falcons will face No. 10 Ponderosa at the University of Pacific’s Klein Family Field on Monday at 7 p.m. Top-seeded Buhach Colony will play Oakdale in the other semifinal at UOP at 4 p.m.
The Falcons got another strong performance on the mound from Jacob Weiss, who’s right arm has been huge down the stretch. Weiss gave up just one run on five hits in seven innings. He struck out six.
Weiss had gone 26 innings without giving up an earned run until Manteca (16-11) scored in the sixth inning to tie the game at 1-1.
Weiss, who will get an opportunity to play at his future home college field after verbally committing to accept a baseball scholarship to UOP earlier this year, improved to 9-0 this season with a 1.19 ERA.
“Weiss was great,” Pimentel said. “He had great command of his curveball and he threw strikes when he needed to tonight.”
Fernando Ruvalcaba gave Atwater a brief 1-0 lead in the fifth inning with his first home run of the season. The sophomore laced a ball over the left-field wall off of Manteca starter Ryan Ward.
“I didn’t know it was gone until my first-base coach started celebrating,” Ruvalcaba said. “When I got to a 2-0 count, I knew he was going to come with a fastball. I was just hoping it would be a little inside. He missed his spot and I took advantage of it.”
Eventually the stage was set for Kale to win the game. In his previous at-bat he had failed to get a bunt down and it turned into a double play.
“I know I got on him for his bunt the previous inning,” Pimentel said. “For him to come through with the big hit is huge. Not only is it big for our team, it’s big for him.”