Playoffs in doubt as boys baseball drops two to North Tahoe
Saturday was not a good day for the Truckee High varsity baseball team. With a 9-5 league record entering the final doubleheader of the season ” against 8-6 rival North Tahoe ” the Wolverines dropped both of the much-needed games, 8-4 and 6-3.
The pair of Highlander victories ensured a No. 3 seed for the team entering playoffs, with a 10-6 record. For the Wolverines, now 9-7, the losses jeopardized playoff hopes, which would have been obtained had the team won at least one game.
“We really wanted to win these games today,” said senior utility player Joe Lipnoski. “We knew we had to win at least one to make it a sure thing to get into playoffs. We’re definitely real disappointed about it.
“We all wanted it so bad. I don’t know. Our coach said we didn’t have a lot of focus, but I thought it was there.”
With the losses, Truckee is bunched into a three-way tie with Fernley and Dayton for the fourth and final playoff spot.
“We just didn’t get the hits with runners in scoring position,” Truckee coach Mike Ellis said. “If we can get in [playoffs], maybe this will be a wake-up call for everybody. We deserve to be in there.”
The Wolverines began the first game looking sharp. Junior pitcher Ben Tonon picked up two ground-ball outs in the top of the first inning and appeared to be setting into cruise mode. But with two outs, the strike zone became an elusive target for the right-hander, as he walked the next batter on four pitches, then walked the cleanup hitter on five.
After a hard-hit grounder to shortstop Paul Tierney took a funky hop and ricocheted into shallow center field to load the bases, the following batter hit a double off the fence in left to score two. Tonon escaped the two-out rally by recording a swinging strikeout.
The Wolverines answered in the bottom of the first with their own two-out rally. After two quick outs, third baseman and pitcher Jimmy Williams worked the count full before ripping an inside pitch down the line and by the third baseman for a double. Tonon, who bats cleanup, helped his cause by smashing a line drive to the base of the fence in left-center for an RBI double. Junior pitcher and outfielder John Hooper followed with a ground ball base hit between third and short in which North Tahoe shortstop Ryan Lane dove to keep the ball in the infield and save a run. With runners on first and third, sophomore pitcher and first baseman Matt Aboumrad hit a one-hopper back to the pitcher to end the inning. The score: 2-1, North Tahoe.
Tonon ran into immediate trouble in the second inning. The first batter walked on five pitches, then advanced to second on a nicely placed bunt. North Tahoe’s leadoff batter then hit a high pop-up into no-man’s land in shallow left for a hit. The second out of the inning came on a pick-off move to second. North Tahoe then began another two-out rally with an RBI line drive to center, followed by a base hit to left and a double past a diving Williams.
Down 5-1, Truckee coach Mike Ellis brought in Williams to relieve Tonon. Williams walked the first two batters he faced to load the bases, then got out of the inning with a pop fly to senior second baseman Jeff Hansen.
In the bottom of the second with two outs, sophomore second baseman and outfielder Andrew Mazzini smacked a double over the left fielder’s head; but the inning ended with a fly out to center by senior catcher Buck Claesson. The score: still 5-1, North Tahoe.
North Tahoe picked up another run in the top of the third after a leadoff walk, a hit batter and a double down the third base line. The score: 6-1.
Leading off the bottom of the third, Hansen attempted to bunt for a hit. North Tahoe’s first baseman reached up the base line to receive the throw, and on the close play tripped Hansen, who then fell face-first in the dirt. Once on his feet, Hansen threw his helmet down towards the bag and the infield umpire immediately ejected him from the game. (Any player ejected in a high school baseball game must also sit out the next game). So, the Wolverines lost their second baseman and No. 2 hitter for the rest of the day.
“Getting Jeff kicked out of the game was big,” Ellis said. “He’s a big part of the team. That kind of just changed the whole mood.”
Truckee was held scoreless in the inning, as was North Tahoe.
In the bottom of the fourth the Wolverines picked up another run when Mazzini hit a ground ball that got under the glove of North Tahoe’s second baseman with runners on first and third. Claesson slapped a base hit to right field to knock in Mazzini and bring the score to 6-3. But that would be the Wolverine’s last run.
After a one-two-three fifth, North Tahoe added a run in the sixth and another in the seventh.
Truckee threatened in the bottom of the seventh by loading the bases and scoring a run on a fielder’s choice by Hooper. But the game ended on a called strike three to Aboumrad. The final: 8-4.
The Wolverines were looking bounce back with a revengeful second-game victory behind ace pitcher Kevin Embertson. It did not happen.
Truckee, with a much larger home crowd on hand than in the first game, drew first blood in the bottom of the first inning against North Tahoe shortstop and pitcher Ryan Lane. Claesson starting things off by getting grazed by a pitch and Hooper followed with a four-pitch walk. After Williams bunted the runners over to second and third, a wild pitch scored Claesson to give the Wolverines a 1-0 lead. Tonon then walked and Mazzini hit a one-hopper off Lane’s glove for another Wolverine run. The score at the end of one inning: 2-0, Truckee.
Embertson breezed through the second, and the Wolverines added another run in the bottom of the inning. Tierney led off with a walk and Lipnoski sent a looping liner into right. With runners on first and third, Claesson hit a dribbling ground ball to the third baseman, who opted to get the sure out at first. Another run scored to give Truckee a 3-0 lead.
In the top of the third, Embertson recorded two quick outs, then walked a batter. The following hitter crushed a ball down the third base line and over the fence that appeared to Truckee players, coaches and fans to be foul. Of course, North Tahoe players, coaches and fans thought the ball hit off the foul pole, which would make it a fair ball and a two-run homerun.
The home-plate umpire initially called it foul, but reversed his call after a meeting with the field umpire. Truckee fans were not shy in letting the umpire know what they felt about the reversal. North Tahoe fans, who would have been equally as vocal had the call not been reversed, cheered in taunting fashion directed at the Truckee side of the bleachers.
Before emotions could settle, the next batter blasted a no-doubt home run to left-center, just to the left of the scoreboard, to tie the ballgame at three apiece.
Embertson then threw a fastball at the knees of the following hitter, which drew a warning from the umpire.
With the momentum clearly shifted, the Wolverines failed to score another run in the game, while the Lakers took a 5-3 lead in the fourth and added an insurance run in the seventh. By the time the contest was over, the scoreboard read 6-3 in North Tahoe’s favor.
It was a disappointing day for the Wolverines, no doubt.