Hughson, Ripon baseball teams split series, raise likelihood of TVL co-title

A split of the two-game showdown this week between the Hughson and Ripon baseball teams creates the strong possibility of a two-way tie for the Trans-Valley League title.

Both teams prevailed on their home field. Ripon won 7-0 on Tuesday – just the second game all year Hughson did not score – before the Huskies rode a heroic performance by Robert McDaniel to a 4-3 victory Thursday.

The outcome left Ripon at 15-9 overall and 9-1 in the TVL with two league games to play next week against Hilmar (8-10, 5-4).

Hughson (17-3, 7-1) has four league games to play in the final week – two each against Modesto Christian (4-14, 2-6) and Livingston (7-12, 5-5) -- because of rainouts earlier this season. On Saturday, the Huskies will play an unusual doubleheader at home – hosting Amador (5-14) in non-league game at noon, then Modesto Christian at 3 p.m.

“We had scheduled Amador earlier in the year, got rained out and the coach didn’t want to lose the game. So we picked Saturday to make it up,” explained Hughson coach Charly Garza. “And then our MC games got rained out. It’s kind of tough with the schedule and the rain, you have to find days.”

Next week, Hughson will play at Livingston on Tuesday, host the Wolves on Thursday and then go to Modesto Christian on Friday to finish the regular season.

Should the Huskies and Ripon finish with the same TVL record, they will share the championship. A year ago, Hughson finished in a three-way tie for the title with Livingston and Hilmar.

Pairings for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs will be announced May 6. The Huskies are in line for a high seed in the eight-team Division V tournament. Ripon, because of its larger enrollment, will compete in Division IV.

The playoffs begin May 10 with the four highest-seeded teams hosting the four lower seeds in a single-game elimination format. The second round is a best-of-three, followed by one game for the Section championship.

If the playoffs are anything like Hughson’s games this week against Ripon, they will be exciting.

On Thursday, the Huskies leaned on McDaniel on the mound and at the plate. The sophomore right-hander threw a complete game, striking out seven while walking just one and allowing four hits, two of which were home runs that accounted for all of Ripon’s scoring.

McDaniel also had the biggest hit for Hughson, crushing a three-run homer to left-center field with two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning to give the Huskies a 4-1 lead they never lost. Earlier in the inning, Jacob Yarbrough drove in the first run for Hughson.

“Robert’s homer kind of changed the mood of the game because on Tuesday, when we didn’t score at all, we hit into four double plays,” said Garza. “We hit the ball hard, but right at them. We were making good contact, but sometimes in baseball you just have one of those days.”

McDaniel survived a scare in the top of the seventh, when Ripon mounted a rally with two outs. An infield error allowed a runner to reach base and the next hitter followed with a two-run homer that cut Hughson’s lead to 4-3.

After a mound visit from Garza to calm his team and give his pitcher a chance to catch his breath, McDaniel responded in impressive fashion, striking out the final batter on three pitches.