So much for an even playoff bracket.
All three Valley Oak League seeds into the Sac-Joaquin Division IV Baseball Playoffs broke into the semi-finals last week, effectively eliminating all but one of the remaining six seeds from the Sierra Valley Conference and Western Athletic Conference.
Oakdale beat Ceres (WAC No. 3) 6-2 on Friday to reach the semifinals, where they posted a 6-1 win over Los Banos (WAC No. 2) on Saturday in the first game of a best of three series at Tony Zupo Field in Lodi.
Oakdale played Los Banos again on Tuesday, though results were not available at The Leader’s Monday press time.
Monday also marked the second semifinal game for the top half of the bracket, where VOL teams Manteca and East Union squared off for a shot at the finals (Manteca won the first game 6-5).
Oakdale reached its own position after dispatching a dangerous Ceres team with a furious second-inning rally on May 20. Braydon Stephens bunted to score Andy Morris when the throw to first sailed well over first base. Lane Branch singled into left field to plate a run and saw Mark Ortiz land an RBI with a bases loaded walk, A dropped fly ball to center field scored another run and Kody Simons blasted a sacrifice fly to deep right for a 5-0 lead just two innings in.
“We have been working hard all year executing in situations like we were in during that second inning,” Oakdale coach Hondo Arpoika said. “We have seen some big pressure in big games and it has paid off.”
Oakdale would later score in the fifth after Spencer Thomas walked and scored on another Branch knock into the outfield.
Russell Longworth got the start against Ceres and struck out eight in six-and-a-third innings of work. He allowed just six hits and only one run, which came home on a two-RBI single surrendered by Oakdale reliever, Matt Butler. Butler forced a groundout to end the game well ahead of any danger.
Brennon Williams tossed the first game of the Los Banos series and went seven full innings with eight strikeouts and only three hits allowed.
“I thought the team came out and were very focused against both Ceres and Los Banos,” Arpoika said. “They were definitely ready to play and we just executed and got some clutch hits with solid pitching and solid defense.
“They were playing like they are supposed to play.”
Second round winners will advance to the SJS finals on Monday, May 30. The time and place is yet to be determined.