After fighting through the prep baseball season like a cagy lion for nearly five months, Oakdale High baseball coach Hondo Arpoika finally lost his edge during the final game of his illustrious career on May 27.
With OHS seniors Sean Harrity and Nathan Fuller barreling across Lodi’s Tony Zupo Field with a large and ominous ice chest in tow, Arpoika could only lift his arms skyward and accept the ensuing shower of bottles, ice, freezing water and sweet, sweet victory.
Arpoika’s Mustangs scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to escape a 1-0 deficit to Central Catholic and claim the program’s fourth consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV banner with a 4-1 tally.
The win capped a sterling career mark of 252-96-5 after 14 seasons that granted Arpoika every section championship in school history. He was 23-9 in his last hurrah with a 12-2 romp through the Valley Oak League that propelled Oakdale to a sixth section banner in seven years.
Perhaps it’s the strain of these title runs that left him exposed for the postgame shower.
“I was surprised he didn’t put up a bigger fight than he did,” Hondo’s son and OHS third baseman Miko Arpoika said with a grin. “I think he knew it was coming and he just let it happen.”
“It was worth it,” coach Arpoika added. “My last year could not have ended any better.”
Oakdale’s title hopes hung in the balance during the final frames as early base runners failed to cross home plate from scoring positions. Central Catholic belted in a run in the top of the sixth and appeared poised to enter the seventh with a lead after two outs in the bottom of the frame.
But then Oakdale got hot.
Ericksen Dickens broke up Matt Palazzo’s no-hitter with a base hit, then traded places with pinch-runner Trenton Pierson, who advanced to second on a two-out walk by Nik Garza. Bryce Dyrda singled in Pierson to tie the game, then Colt Parshall took a nasty ball to the face to load the bases. Palazzo would walk a patient Miko Arpoika to send home Garza with go-ahead score, and Austin Dickens beat a late throw to first (error) to score Miko Arpoika and Parshall.
Oakdale ace and Stanislaus State University-bound Eddie Machado tossed a brilliant five and two-thirds affair, with five strikeouts, four hits allowed and the lone score surrendered. He was replaced by USC-commit, Dyrda, in the top of the sixth, and watched as Dyrda earned the win with four consecutive strikeouts to end the game.
Dyrda’s last three Ks in the top of the seventh left Central Catholic batters waving at fastballs and staring helplessly at breaking-ball strikes.
“I didn’t care how I got those last three outs, but to get strikeouts to end it was pretty cool,” Dyrda admitted. “Eddie did one hell of a job to get us to that point, and he didn’t get much rest.”
Machado was competing on just four days rest after an 11-0 shutout (five innings) of Vista del Lago in game three of the May 22 semifinals. He also tossed a no-hitter during Oakdale’s 3-0 win over Cosumnes Oaks to start the postseason for a combined stanza of 18 and two-thirds innings with only run allowed at Tony Zupo Field. It’s the type of clutch performance Oakdale sport fans have come to expect from the athlete who caught a touchdown and intercepted two passes during the Mustangs NorCal Football Championship.
“With the luck I am having, I wish I would have (wrestled),” Machado said with a laugh. “After the football NorCal and state game, I played on a bigger stage and the nerves for me are just an escape for my adrenaline.
“It’s just the confidence and trust we have in each other.”
Machado got ahead of Central Catholic hitters early, continuing the practice of ‘hustling’ that separates Oakdale from the rest of the Division IV field. It’s a team-wide persona that was thrilling to watch this postseason.
Each inning, Christian Acosta sprinted from deep left field to his own dugout in only six seconds. Harrity showcased wheels by beating out an easy chopper to second base. Nick Ippolito and Ericksen Dickens put their frames on the line with dramatic face-first dives into first base, while Ippolito caught a Vista del Lago pitcher napping by dashing to second after a routine single. The hustle was contagious.
“You have got to hustle everywhere,” Acosta said. “I enjoy that aspect of the game.”
The speedy workmanship is a byproduct of coach Arpoika’s system. Players work to improve with vigor, prepare themselves for every situation and rally behind the belief of their own imminent success.
It’s a grind and it’s not always pretty, but it works for both Arpoika and Mustangs.
“The Lord has blessed me with some great kids,” Arpoika said. “I’m blessed to have been given the opportunity to coach here.
“Oakdale is a special community and a special place with special kids.”