Monache downs BCHS for trip to Valley championships

Legendary New York Yankees catcher, Yogi Berra, said it best, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

The fifth-seeded Monache High School baseball team showed the wisdom and truth of Berra’s words with a 6-5 walk-off semifinal win Wednesday at home against ninth-seed Bakersfield to punch their ticket to Saturday’s CIF Central Section Division IV Championship game against seventh-seed Chowchilla.

Players and coaches alike had their stomachs in knots with the Marauders (18-12) down 5-4 to the Eagles (16-15) in the middle of the seventh inning. Coming out of the top of the inning unscathed, Monache was in a good position to pull off a miracle with their 3-4-5 hitters up to bat.

Things got interesting right away with Aaron Hernandez drawing a lead-off walk and blowing kisses to the dugout on his way to first before Cameron Ryan went in to pinch run for him.

From there, the Marauders’ Tori Powell and Troy Nieto laid down two perfect bunts and beat out throws to first which moved Ryan and loaded the bases.

Prime for another big hit after smacking a lead-off double to the outfield fence in the bottom of the sixth, Alexza Sandoval didn’t get a chance to repeat because BCHS reliever, Austin Miller, balked on the very first pitch. The balk brought in Ryan and kept the bases loaded with Sandoval headed to first.

And then up came Anthony Carabay in the perfect position to do damage with the bases loaded, no outs and the winning run on third. The senior rose to the occasion by hitting a sacrifice fly to center field and bringing in Powell for the walk-off win.

“I was just trying to hit it into the outfield,” Carabay said. “I wanted to get that run in just so we could win the game. Anything out there, just bring that run in.”

Both Powell and Carabay were immediately swarmed by their teammates and coaches while another player called out, “We’re going to Valley!”

On going to Valley, Carabay said, “It’s crazy. Just all that work, all summer. All four years, never really did anything. This is amazing.”

MHS head coach A.J. Watts called the game “fun” afterwards but it was a nailbiter.

The Marauders trailed the entire game after giving up two runs in the top of the first and the Eagles had a hit in nearly every inning. But they rallied back after every Eagles’ run.

In the first, Daniel Andrade scored on a passed ball after hitting a leadoff triple while Sandoval hit in Matthew Cloyd to cut Bakersfield’s lead back to one.

Both teams went scoreless until the sixth when the Eagles’ scored two more runs. But once again, the Marauders answered with Sandoval scoring on a passed ball and Ricky Alba hitting Carabay in.

Alba had the start and went 5 ⅓ innings with five runs on nine hits, two walks and two strikeouts. Powell relieved him and gave up only two hits.

“Ricky, and I’ve said this before, he’s a competitor and he always gives us a chance,” Watts said. “He gives us a chance to play defense, he gives us a chance to play offense. He wasn’t as sharp as we’ve seen him but he pitched with a lot of guts tonight. Understood his role tonight, he wasn’t happy to give up the ball — he never is — but he understood why. And then he was backed up with a terrific effort by Powell tonight. Really, really good effort for Powell.”

Powell doesn’t hide his emotions when he plays and in the top of the seventh, he was visibly stressed about giving up a lead-off double.

“At first when that kid got a double a lot of stuff was going through my mind, that like I can’t let him score,” Powell said. “I’ve got to keep pitching and stay strong the whole way. Not let my emotions get to me.”

And his emotions didn’t get the best of him because while the Eagles’ runner was able to get to third, Powell got the next three batters out to end the inning.

Both Sandoval and Hernandez went 2-for-3 with a walk and a run scored to lead the Marauders, while the team’s small ball came up clutch.

“I think what’s important with all that stuff is if as a team we’re hitting, then we’re going to hit,” Watts said. “But there are times in a 30-game season, or a 28-game season, that you need to be offensive because your hitting isn’t there and it’s paused because of a long stretch of games. Tonight it was because of [BCHS starting pitcher Kyle Langston], he was pretty good on the mound for them. So it’s nice to be able to rely on that stuff. We executed that stuff really, really well the last 10, 15 games.”

Now the focus turns to Saturday’s 9:30 a.m. game against Chowchilla (16-11-1) at Fresno State’s Pete Beiden Field at Bob Bennett Stadium.

“I hope we handle this well,” Watts said. “I hope we have a good day of preparation tomorrow and Friday. This team’s handled tough losses well. We’ve handled good wins well. We’ve gotta do it one more time.”

And for a team that hadn’t seen a winning season since 2008, heading to Valley is still nothing short of exciting.

“Brand new experience for me, I’ve never been,” Powell said. “With this team, lot of juniors and seniors. We basically did this for the seniors. It’ll be a fun experience for the whole team.”

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