Home-field magic runs out as Hughson baseball team ousted from Section Division V playoffs

For the first three months of the baseball season, Hughson had a clear-cut home-field advantage. The Huskies won 11 straight games, many of them by lopsided margins. But the magic vanished this month as Hughson suffered back-to-back defeats.

Each loss was significant. The Huskies fell to Livingston 2-1 on May 4, which cost them a share of the Trans-Valley League championship with Ripon. That was followed by Wednesday’s 5-3 heartbreaker against Sutter, which ended Hughson’s season in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V baseball semifinals.

“No one was expecting either of those losses,” said Hughson Coach Charly Garza. “Against Livingston, we were confident. Yesterday, we were loose and confident. We were expecting to score more runs. We put the ball in play, but Sutter made the plays they needed to on defense.”

After dropping a 4-1 decision at Sutter on Monday, Hughson (22-6) needed a victory Wednesday to force a third game in the best-of-three semifinal series.

Things didn’t start out well for Hughson and pitcher Caleb Wilson, who battled his control through five innings. He was let down by his defense in the first inning, when a misplayed ball in the outfield led to two Sutter runs.

Hughson quickly rallied to tie the game at 2-2, though. Robert McDaniel had an RBI single in the bottom of the first – an inning that ended with Carlos Guizar being robbed of a two-run homer when Sutter’s left fielder reached over the fence to make the catch.

“If he hits it a few more inches, we’re ahead,” Garza said.

Hughson scored again in the second when Bryce McDaniel came home on a passed ball. The score stayed that way until the of the fifth, when Sutter pushed across another run against Wilson, a junior right-hander who ended up uncharacteristically walking six batters and hitting one while throwing 103 pitches in five innings.

“He wasn’t wild; he was just missing by a little bit,” Garza said. “It just took him a while to find the zone. He put himself in a position where he had a lot of stress pitches with guys in scoring position. He did well to work himself out of it. They had situations where they could have scored more runs.”

Trailing 3-2, Hughson rallied again to tie the score in the bottom of the fifth on Gavin Stone’s two-out RBI single.

It stayed that way until the top of the seventh, when Sutter scored twice against Hughson’s Max Mankins. A walk, a stolen base and a sacrifice bunt put a runner on third base with one out. Sutter’s Brady Wickum – who knocked in the first three runs – delivered again with a sacrifice fly to center field. Hughson’s J.C. Lupercio made a terrific diving catch on the play, but couldn’t make a throw before the runner scored. Rylan Giovannoni followed with a home run for Sutter to make it 7-5.

“It was a highly competitive baseball game,” Garza said. “Sutter is a very good team.”

Top-seeded Sutter (22-5-1) moves on to play No. 3 Bradshaw Christian (22-5) for the Section title on May 26 at Islanders Field in Lathrop. Bradshaw swept Colfax in the other semifinal series.

The disappointing end doesn’t obscure another outstanding season for Hughson, which made it to the Section finals before losing in 2022. The Huskies are well-positioned for another run at a Section title next year. They only lose four graduating seniors and will return all their top pitchers and many of their best hitters.

“I told the boys after the game (Wednesday) that there aren’t too many teams playing right now,” Garza said. “The last couple of years, we’ve been the TVL team that’s played the longest. They represented the school well, the team well, themselves and the community well. They’re good competitors and great kids. One game doesn’t define the season. If you’re constantly in the final four and competing, you’re in a good position.”