Stallions claim first baseball title
Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
The Madera South Stallions baseball team celebrates with the Div. IV Championship plaque underneath the scoreboard at Pete Beiden Field at Bob Bennett Stadium at Fresno State on Saturday after a 5-3 victory over Lemoore.
FRESNO — Four years ago, Madera South Stallions baseball coach Alan Sandoval told a group of freshmen they were going to make history at the school.
Four years later, the fifth-seeded Stallions defeated the 14th-seeded Lemoore Tigers, 5-3, to capture the Div. IV Central Section championship at Fresno State’s Bob Bennett Stadium at Beiden Field on Saturday for Madera South’s first baseball section championship in school history.
“It’s great to get the first one,” Sandoval said. “This is great. They deserve it. They found a way to do it. They are the greatest bunch of kids to coach.”
“Since freshman year, coach said we would be here one day. Look at us now. We came out, did our work and look where we’re at. It feels amazing,” senior Brian Monges said. “We worked so hard for this. We deserved this. We all did our job. It was amazing to step up. All our teammates were behind each other. Everyone has to do their job and everyone did their job today.”
Xavier Cantu hit a home run to start the Stallions’ offense. Jasir Alvarez hit a two-run double to give the Stallions their first lead. Seniors Anthony Gamiz and Johnathan Spraggins hit sacrifice flies to keep the Stallions in front.
“Xavier’s hit was huge,” Sandoval said. “When he hit that ball, I was thinking we’ve arrived and we’re good. Anthony Gamiz and Johnathan Spraggins had huge sacrifice flies. That kind of put the game away. The seniors stepped up and did what they were supposed to.”
The Stallions rallied behind ace Murf Gray. Although Gray wasn’t as efficient as he has been, he still picked up the win and came in relief to get Madera South out of a jam. In all, Gray tossed four innings. He allowed five hits and two runs with five strikeouts.
“It’s amazing,” Gray said. “I’ve been dreaming of this since my freshman year. Coach said freshman year, we were going to rise up and this year, we did it. I’ve been in that situation coming back. I just did my job and what happens, happens.”
Jorge Gutierrez tossed the final two innings to pick up the save. He allowed a hit and walked a batter. He allowed two runners in the seventh to make things interesting, but struck out the final batter of the game to set off the celebration.
“I just wanted to throw strikes and win the ball game,” Gutierrez said. “It felt so good to get that strike out. That’s what I wanted.”
“Jorge has been good for us all year,” Sandoval said.
After struggling though a tough County/metro Athletic Conference season, the Stallions outscored their opponents 35-5 in the four postseason games. The CMAC helped get the Stallions ready for the postseason.
“(Assistant Coach) Kevin (Lapin) told me at the last inning to relax because it’s not tougher than a CMAC inning and he was right,” Sandoval said.
“The CMAC is a tough league and it built us,” Gutierrez said.
Lemoore got the scoring started in the top of the second inning. Gray hit the lead-off batter, but the pinch-runner was caught trying to steal second.
However, the next Tiger singled and stole second. Lemoore singled up the middle. Monges came up throwing, but the ball hit the umpire and Lemoore scored the first run of the game. Gray got a strikeout, but a single to left by the No. 9 batter drove in the second run of the inning.
The Stallions, then took advantage of a tiring Lemoore ace. Cantu hit the third pitch of the fourth inning over the 330-foot marker in left field for his first home run of the season and cut Lemoore’s lead in half.
“It was a short swing and I was fast to the ball,” Cantu said. “It was big. I cut the lead in half and it sparked a three-run rally. I was so happy and screaming. It was a great feeling when I hit it. I felt like I was running on air.”
“Xavier started it off, amazing,” Gray said. “I wasn’t worried my bat wasn’t going. The whole time during playoffs, my team was backing me up. I’m just happy to get the win.”
Monges kept the rally going by drawing a walk on the eighth pitch. After a pair of strikeouts, Jasir Alvarez reached on an infield single after Monges stole second.
Alvarez’s twin, Jair, hit the first pitch he saw over the left fielder’s head. The ball bounced off the fence for a double while Monges and Jasir Alvarez scored to give the Stallions a 3-2 lead.
Lemoore bounced back to tie the game in the fifth. Monges allowed a lead-off walk and a single. A ground-rule double drove in a run to tie the score.
Gray came back in the game and got a pair of groundouts and a strikeouts to keep the game tied.
Madera South battled back in the fifth. Gray popped up to first, but the first baseman dropped the ball. Cantu drew a walk. Monges forced Cantu at second with Gray taking third. Gamiz flied out to center, but Gray scored the go-ahead run.
The Stallions added an insurance run in the sixth. Both of the Alvarez twins were hit by pitches. Gutierrez reached on a bunt single to load the bases.
With Moisa in the dugout struggling with cramps to his leg, Spraggins was called on to pinch-hit. He hit a fly ball to center that was deep enough to score pinch-runner Bryce Johnson for a 5-3 lead.
Gutierrez started off the seventh with a groundout to Gray. He then hit the next batter on an 0-2 pitch. A single put runners at first and second with one out.
“It was up-and-down in the last inning,” Sandoval said. “Jorge made it interesting, but I knew he was going to get out of it. Jorge has that thing with Murf that it’s going to be okay.”
Gutierrez got a flyout to center that advanced a runner to third. With runners at the corners and facing a full count, Gutierrez blew a fastball past the Lemoore hitter for his second strikeout of the game and begin a celebration Madera South has been waiting for.
Madera South will continue to play in the CIF State Playoffs in the Northern California section. The seventh-seeded play Tuesday in Sacramento against No. 2 Bradshaw Christian.