After a lazy fly ball from Oakdale High’s Mark Ortiz bounced off the mitt of Sonora’s right-fielder to allow three more unearned runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, Wildcat ace Ryan Stevenson turned to his dugout in disgust and waved his hand across his neck to request his departure from the mound.
An inning later and now relegated to centerfield, he added to the carnage by misjudging a routine fly ball from Oakdale’s Bryce Dyrda, allowing two more Mustang runners to cross the plate for a 12-2 walk-off mercy-rule victory for Oakdale in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV Championships at Tony Zupo Field.
The win granted the Mustangs their third consecutive blue banner and fifth in just six seasons.
Oakdale managed just four hits against Sonora pitchers, and only one — a towering solo home run from Spencer Thomas in the sixth — was permitted without the miscues of Sonora fielders.
Oakdale hitters clogged the base paths after seven walks and four batters were struck by pitches. Sonora committed an incredible eight errors while Mustang runners aggressively advanced bases.
“I think our kids did everything that we talked about when it comes to putting pressure on a team and taking advantage of their mistakes,” Oakdale coach Hondo Arpoika said. “Everyone was a part of it. They all pitched in.”
Oakdale junior Logan Handzlik tossed the complete game victory with seven hits allowed. He surrendered five knocks in the first three innings, after which Sonora trailed just 2-1. The first-year transfer from Fresno later allowed a solo home run in the sixth, but stayed tough in the final three innings while the Oakdale offense only piled onto the advantage.
“I went out there and struggled early,” Handzlik (two strikeouts) admitted afterwards. “But my team picked me up, they did it all.
“I came out for this team to compete for a starting spot like anyone else, and we all worked hard and just came together all season. This was everything we worked for.”
Ortiz was responsible for four RBIs in the win. He got into a pickle to distract Sonora fielders while Justin Martin marched home in the fourth, and took advantage of the Sonora error in the fifth to plate three more.
“Base running is real important to us, which is why we work an hour a day on it,” Ortiz said. “We pick a team apart with their pitching and fielding just to get one more step, and it’s crucial.”
Ortiz and fellow three-year varsity senior Kody Simons had the pleasure of competing in Oakdale’s last three SJS championship games. The pair wouldn’t recognize a postseason bracket unless it was draped in banner-blue.
“Three section titles in three seasons has just been amazing,” Ortiz said. “We just keep winning.”
Simons was hit by a pitch in the first inning and later plated Oakdale’s first run after a walk and forced pickle by Andy Morris, who later scored on an Erikson Dickens forced-error.
Simons, Morris and Dickens later loaded the bases with walks in the bottom of the third inning, and all scored on the same play when a dropped third strike led to a pair of Sonora errors as Oakdale runners crashed home plate.
Justin Martin captured Oakdale’s first hit on a brilliant bunt and sprint to first when Sonora defenders were caught in a poor fielding position in the bottom of the fourth. An inning later, Lane Branch advanced to first on a shallow pop fly misplayed by Sonora fielders. He was out at home on a close play at the plate just moments later, but watched Nik Garza (hit by three pitches), Dyrda and Sean Harrity all scamper home on the costly field error.
Dickens got on with an error in the sixth and was replaced by pinch-runner Miko Arpoika, who scored with Branch after Dyrda’s walk-off double sailed over Stevenson’s head after an ill-timed charge towards the infield to close the game.
The contest drew big emotions from Oakdale players, and none seemed more animated that senior shortstop Andy Morris. He was sent skyward by a sliding Sonora runner while turning a key double play in the second inning, but ultimately converted both outs as the umpire ruled runner interference. He voiced his displeasure with strikes called against him in the fourth inning, but battled back to play sharp in the field.
“We had a game plan to stay composed, especially me because I am a bit of a hot head,” Morris said. “I kind of had one at-bat where I got fired up, but I was able to stay composed at shortstop.”
The win completed a 4-0 sweep for Oakdale (27-5) in games against Valley Oak League rival, Sonora, this season. The Mustangs were ranked sixth in the third enrollment division by Calhisports.com as of May 24, and have a shot at the mythical state title, considering the teams ranked higher had games to play as of Monday or had already fallen short of a section title.