HHS Baseball
Hughson baseball team swept by Sutter in playoff series

An incredible baseball season ended in shocking fashion Wednesday afternoon when Hughson gave up five runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to lose 6-5 to Sutter in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs.

The remarkable comeback allowed Sutter to sweep the best-of-three semifinal series after it had pinned a 10-2 loss on Hughson in the first game Monday.

It is the second year in a row that Sutter (24-6-1) eliminated Hughson (26-4) in the second round.

“It was hard,” said Hughson coach Charly Garza. “The kids were disappointed, more than anything because the season is over and they enjoyed playing together. They did all that we asked them to and represented the town and school and their families well.

“We won TVL. We won the Oakdale Tournament. We won 26 games. … But at some point, you’ve just got to tip your cap to Sutter. They were better than us for these two games.”

For six innings Wednesday, it appeared Hughson was going to force a decisive Game 3, which would have been played on its field Thursday.

Hughson starter Max Mankins was dominant. He scattered three hits with four strikeouts and three walks while allowing just an unearned run. Garza removed him after the junior threw 97 pitches on a hot day.

“Max was outstanding. He did exactly what you want a pitcher to do in an elimination game,” Garza praised.

Meanwhile, Hughson’s offense – which was uncharacteristically quiet in Monday’s loss – had bounced back in a big way, scoring three runs in the top of the first inning against hard-throwing University of Hawaii recruit Jagger Beck. Hughson added single runs in the third and fourth innings to grab a 5-0 lead.

“They threw their best guy and we got to him early,” Garza said. “He threw 33 pitches in first inning, was at 50 after two and 96 when they pulled him after four.”

Garza credited his hitters for making the adjustment at the plate after Monday’s first game. Hughson averaged nearly 10 runs a game this season but appeared anxious on offense in the opener.

“Our approaches weren’t great at the plate. We were just trying to do too much,” said Garza, who blamed himself for not coaching his players better. “I don’t think we had a single groundout. … Wednesday, we hit more line drives and hard grounders and caused them to make five errors.

“When you have a team that has scored so many runs against good pitching all year long, you just want to let them play. We’re too good and too deep not to score.”

In Game 2, Hughson was in control from the start. The offense was clicking, Mankins was dealing and closer Paul Wagner – averaging two strikeouts an inning – was rested and ready to pitch the bottom the seventh.

Wagner, unfortunately, never found his rhythm. He walked three batters, gave up two hits and recorded just one out before Garza came out to get him with the bases loaded and the score now 5-3.

Isaac Lupercio, who had been playing right field, was called in to pitch. But as he was warming up, he got a cramp in his right calf that wouldn’t go away. He had to leave the game, forcing Garza to turn to left fielder Andrew Fisher to take over on the mound.

“He did a great job under the circumstances,” Garza said of Fisher.

The first batter Fisher faced hit a slow bouncer in the hole between third baseman Caleb Wilson and Wagner, who had returned to shortstop. Wilson dove for the ball and missed it. Wagner also dove, but the ball hit off his glove and rolled into shallow left field.

Two Sutter runners came in on the play to tie the score at 5-5. Just as important, the potential winning run was now at third base. With the Hughson infield and outfield drawn in, the next Sutter hitter chopped a ball high off the plate between the mound and first base.

“It must have gone 30 feet in the air,” Garza said.

Fisher, trying to rush to cut off the runner trying to score, bobbled the ball and threw late to the plate. Just like that, Sutter had rallied for five runs to win the game. Hughson’s season was over.

“I don’t think they hit one ball hard that inning,” said Garza, who can’t remember ever losing a game in such a fashion in his eight years as coach. “We had our closer ready to go. That’s usually the formula. It was all set up and it just didn’t happen.”

Hughson’s players, understandably, were crushed by the outcome. After 15 straight victories, their dreams of a Section championship will have to wait one more year.

“Thirty games is a long season,” Garza said. “You start in January and go to the middle of May. You share so many experiences. You see kids trust your game plan and what you told them to do. You see them go up 5-0 against one of best pitchers in the Section on the road. You hope the scoreboard validates your effort. And that didn’t happen. It’s unfortunate.

“We always talk about sports being lessons for life and sometimes your best effort doesn’t get you what you want.”

Sutter moves on to play Bradshaw Christian for the Section championship next week.