HHS Baseball Team
Hughson baseball team finishes second in TVL, will host first playoff game on Monday

For some teams, losing a chance to win a league title one day might lead to a predictable letdown the next day against a lesser opponent. Not this year’s Hughson baseball team.

Despite a heartbreaking 2-1 loss at home last Thursday to Livingston that cost the Huskies a piece of the Trans-Valley League championship, they rallied the next day to crush Modesto Christian 13-0 and punch their ticket to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs, which begin this week.

“We’ve talked to the boys all year about handling disappointment and we were able to use that as a lesson,” said Hughson coach Charly Garza. “We were all disappointed Thursday, but you learn from it and then move on. The biggest mistake we could make is we don’t move on and then play out of character.”

Hughson hit the ball hard against Livingston, but too many line drives and potential hits didn’t find holes in the Wolves’ defense. Pitcher Robert McDaniel – after giving up two runs in the top of the first inning – settled down to throw six innings for Hughson, which scored its only run in the bottom of the first.

“The kids did all we asked of them,” said Garza, whose team had whipped Livingston 12-0 the day before. “In hindsight, I could have played a little small ball. We could have bunted more to get on base. I don’t think it was our best coaching performance. I was confident we could score more than two runs, but it just wasn’t our day.”

The day after losing to Livingston, Hughson took out its frustration on Modesto Christian, riding two home runs by McDaniel and another by Jacob Yarbrough to an easy win. The two combined to drive in nine runs in a game called after five innings because of the mercy rule.

The Huskies (21-4) finished at 10-2 in the TVL, a game behind Ripon. Hughson drew the No. 4 seed in the Division V playoffs, which earned it a first-round home game Wednesday at 4 p.m. against Ben Holt Academy (8-8) of Stockton.

A win in that contest would move Hughson into the next round, likely against No. 1 seed Sutter (19-5-1), which hosts No. 8 Delta Charter (4-2) on Wednesday. The second round is a best-of-3 series that begins Monday at the home of the higher seed, then continues Wednesday at the lower seed’s field. A third game, if necessary, would be played Thursday at the higher seed. The one-game Section championship will be played the week of May 22.

Last year, the sixth-seeded Huskies made it all the way to the title game before falling to Bradshaw Christian. Despite last week’s loss to Livingston, Garza believes his club can make a similar run this season.

“Sometimes a loss late in the season can help you wake up and pay attention to little details more than when you’re on a winning streak,” he said. “It could be a blessing in disguise. Our guys were loose against Modesto Christian. They had a great time. I think they’re ready.”

Ben Holt is not a total stranger to Hughson. The two schools played on April 13 in the Hilmar Tournament, a game the Huskies won 10-6.

“They’re well-coached,” Garza said. “They beat Hilmar last year in the first round of the playoffs and Hilmar used its two best pitchers. We’re well aware of that.  We know what kind of hitters they are since we played them already.”

Garza hasn’t decided on a starting pitcher for Wednesday, but all signs point to junior right-hander Caleb Wilson, who has a 6-3 record and 1.37 earned-run average with 66 strikeouts in 46 innings this season. That would leave McDaniel, who threw nearly 100 pitches against Livingston, well-rested to start the second-round opener on Monday, if the Huskies advance.

Garza has a roster full of players who gained valuable playoff experience last season, which should be a positive.

“This is not new to them,” he said. “The only hindrance is if the kids get too focused on the results and feel, ‘We have to win because we were here last year.’ We don’t train the kids to think that way. They just have to relax, be loose, have a good time playing together. Just be themselves and whatever happens, happens. We had no expectations last year. We need to keep that same approach and let it rip.”