The Buhach Colony High baseball team has been counting on young players all year. Thunder coach Greg Wakefield isn’t going to change it up now.
The Thunder had three sophomores and one freshman in their lineup in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs opener against Lodi on Tuesday.
Sophomore left-hander Antonio Cortez pitched into the seventh inning, giving up just one run. Sophomore Daniel Casso singled, scored a run and knocked in a run and freshman Jake Sapien singled in a big insurance run late as the No. 7 seed Buhach Colony defeated Lodi 3-1 at Buhach Colony High.
The Thunder will face No. 2 seed Woodcreek, which squeaked by No. 15 Napa 6-5 on Tuesday afternoon.
“Some of these guys were up here last year when it was pretty difficult,” said Buhach Colony coach Greg Wakefield, whose team improved to 20-8. “They learned what it’s like when it’s difficult. Nobody is a sophomore at this point of the year. I feel like everyone is an upperclassmen with all the time they’ve put in since the beginning of the year.”
Cortez pitched like a crafty senior.
The No. 10 Flames (15-12) had an opportunity to get to the Thunder sophomore early as Colton Smithhardt was hit by a pitch to lead off the game and Logan Morita followed by crushing a double to left-center field to drive in Smithhardt.
Two batters into the game and Lodi had a 1-0 lead.
Cortez settled down and scattered two walks, another hit batter and four singles through the first six innings.
“We got to him early, but we couldn’t get that big hit,” said Lodi coach Hobie Schultz. “He got stronger as the game went a long. He had good command and good offspeed pitches.”
Cortez has been unbelievable for the Thunder this season. With the win he improved to 9-0 with a 0.47 ERA.
“He’s really stepped up, he’s been really big for us,” Wakefield said. “He was our No. 2 starter going into the season. Anytime we run him out there he wants to finish. He’s been really good on short rest. This was a long rest situation, which always makes me nervous, but Toni came up big again.”
Cortez has just gained confidence with each outing.
“I didn’t know where I’d be in the rotation coming into the season,” Cortez said. “Once they gave me the spot, the confidence just came as I started doing well.”
Lodi starter Logan Stout was impressive early as he kept the ball down. Eight of the first nine outs came via ground balls with the help of two double plays in the first three innings.
The Thunder started having success against Stout the second time through the order.
Roman Gurr singled to start the fourth and RJ Garcia followed with a walk. Matt Vang singled to center to load the bases with no outs.
Brendan Ekizian followed with an infield single to score Gurr to tie the game at 1-1. Casso drove in the go-ahead run with a ground ball to shortstop.
The Thunder loaded the bases again with a hit batter with one out, but Stout pitched out of the jam with a strikeout and a comebacker.
Buhach Colony added another run in the sixth inning with a Casso base hit to start the frame. He then stole second, was sacrficed to third and scored on Sapien’s single.
After Cortez walked the first batter in the seventh, Wakefield handed the ball to junior John Trujillo, who recorded the final three outs for the save.
Cortez says it was easier adjusting to varsity with a group of underclassmen.
“Definitely,” Cortez said. “With all the young guys, we just feel like we’re going to be together for a while and we’re doing to do a lot together.”