A Valley Oak League baseball title race that came down to the wire on Friday is apparently the fashion of choice for all Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV conferences.
As of Monday, both the Western Athletic Conference and Sierra Valley League sported undecided postseason seeds and championships with only a game to go.
Oakdale clinched the VOL’s top advancement into the SJS playoffs and a co-championship with East Union after a five-inning no-hit gem from pitcher Russell Longworth in a 12-0 throttling of visiting Sonora on Friday.
The game, combined with East Union’s win over Sierra, settled the first three seeds after 11-3 seasons from the league co-champions and a 10-4 stanza by Manteca.
The tight VOL race is much like the WAC title hunt, which has Central Catholic (12-2) and Los Banos (11-3) slated to decide the final conference lead today. The two WAC leaders are 1-1 against each other in their three-game series and both have lost games to the locked No. 3 seed, Ceres (16-9 overall, 8-6 WAC).
It’s this Ceres team that Oakdale will face in the first round of the D-IV playoffs at Tony Zupo Field in Lodi on May 19.
If Oakdale makes it past Ceres, they will face the winner of a game between the WAC No. 2 seed and the SVC champion.
The SVC was in chaos as of Monday, with four teams still in the hunt to nab that title. El Dorado (11-5) and Vista del Lago (11-5) played Monday, though results were not available at press time. Galt (11-6) and River City (10-6) also had games to play, and could have potentially snared a league title or second seed, considering River City went 2-1 against the El Dorado program this year that finished runner-up to Oakdale in the D-IV finals a season ago.
It’s a muddled mess of seeds to be decided, and Oakdale will wait on the rest of the Division IV bracket to fill out after taking care of business on Friday.
Longworth walked four runners and struck out five in his no-hit effort that displayed dazzling command throughout.
“It started in the bullpen before the game when all my pitches were working,” Longworth said following the contest. “I have been hitting a lot of first-pitch locations and my curve ball has been working great.”
Brennon Williams (2 for 2, two RBIs) got Oakdale started in the first inning with an RBI knock to score Matt Butler (2 for 3, two runs, three RBIs). Butler knocked in two of his RBIs in the second inning and scored with two others on a three-RBI double from Andy Morris.
Mark Ortiz plated a run after he was struck by a pitch with the bases loaded in the third, and watched a Butler sacrifice fly and back-to-back doubles from Kody Simons (1 for 2, two runs, two RBIs) and Williams finish the frame for an 11-0 lead.
Spencer Thomas (2 for 2, two runs) led off the fourth with a towering double and later reached home. Tyler Asher snuck a shallow fly ball into left field and scored when Zach Abbott (two runs) hit into a fielder’s choice.
Thomas spent the day at third, while Morris moved to shortstop after a shoulder injury for starter Braydon Stephens last week. Stephens said he expects to participate in practices this week, and should have plenty of time to recover before the playoff opener next week.
Oakdale was deadlocked with East Union to start the series with Sonora, but claimed the tiebreaker advantage by ousting a Wildcats team in 10-3, 12-0 games that had previously split a series with the Lancers.
Oakdale split games with Manteca, East Union and Kimball this season.
“It’s nice for us to take care of business like this,” Oakdale coach Hondo Arpoika said. “We were going through a rough patch but we made some improvements.”