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Buhach Colony’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ march on with playoff win. Thunder reach Final Four.

Buhach Colony’s Cortez on Thunder winning in the playoffs

Buhach Colony scored five runs in the third inning on its way to a 6-2 win over Rio Americano. The Thunder have reached the Final Four of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs with the help of their "Dirty Dozen."
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Buhach Colony scored five runs in the third inning on its way to a 6-2 win over Rio Americano. The Thunder have reached the Final Four of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs with the help of their "Dirty Dozen."

The Buhach Colony High baseball team made it through the entire regular season with a group Thunder coach Greg Wakefield dubbed “The Dirty Dozen.”

With just 12 players on the roster, Buhach Colony was able to win a Central California Conference championship and secure the top seed for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs with a 21-5 record. Two playoff wins have improved the record to 23-5.

The Thunder have picked up some reinforcements for the playoffs in the form of call-ups from the junior varsity team, but it’s still the “Dirty Dozen” doing the heavy lifting as BC defeated No. 9 Rio American 6-2 on Friday afternoon to advance to the Final Four of the Division III playoffs.

“It hasn’t been too bad,” Wakefield said. “You look at the Los Angeles Dodgers and they have so many versatile players. We have a guy like Alex Kendrick, who can play second base, third base, pitcher and outfield. Tony Cortez can play first base, pitcher and outfield. What we do in practice prepares them for this.”

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Buhach Colony’s Daniel Casso races home as third base coach Joe Medeiros reacts in the background. The Thunder advanced to the Final Four in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs with a 6-2 win over Rio Americano on Friday, May 17, 2019. Shawn Jansen Sjansen@mercedsun-star.com

Players have been asked to learn new positions. With a shallow bench, they’ve also been asked not to get hurt.

Fortunately for the Thunder, they’ve been relatively injury free for most of the season.

Within the “Dirty Dozen” there is plenty of talent and that was on display on Thursday.

Kendrick started on the mound and overcame two first-inning runs to pitch six strong innings.

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The Buhach Colony High players watch as coaches Greg Wakefield near and Joe Medeiros slide into the grass to celebrate a 6-2 playoff win over Rio Americano on Friday, May 17, 2019. Shawn Jansen Sjansen@mercedsun-star.com

“It took me until about the third inning to get a feel for the strike zone and what he was calling and what he wasn’t,” Kendrick said.

Nick Keller beat out an infield single with two outs in the first inning and an errant throw allowed the second run to come into score.

Trailing 2-1 in the third inning, the Thunder exploded with five runs to take a 6-1 lead. Cortez fought back from an 0-2 count to deliver a two-run single and Kendrick followed with a two-run double.

“I swung at two changeups when I was expecting fastballs,” Cortez said. “So scooted up in the box, choked up on the bat. Whatever was coming at me, I was going to hit it through the infield. That was my job with two strikes.”

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Buhach Colon’s Antonio Cortez and catcher R.J. Garcia embrace after the Thunder’s 6-2 win over Rio Americano on Friday, May 17, 2019. Shawn Jansen Sjansen@mercedsun-star.com

Like Kendrick, Cortez has been asked to play different positions this year.

“You just have to be adaptable,” he said. “Every player can play any position. Offensively, it pretty much stays the same. On defense I just go wherever I’m told. I didn’t play first base or outfield until this season.”

Of course the defense is helped out when the Thunder can run out pitchers like Kendrick, Cortez and Jake Sapien. Buhach Colony has a team ERA of 1.21.

The pitching will get tested with a busy week of games next week with the rest of the tournament going to double-elimination.

Buhach Colony will face No. 5 Oakdale on Monday at University of Pacific’s Klein Family Field at 4 p.m.

“You want to make to the Final Four,” Wakefield said. “I like our chances, but I think every team left likes their chances. Klein Family Field is a really beautiful place to play baseball. I’m happy our guys get the opportunity to play there.”

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