Off on the right foot

Noel DeLatorre pitched five innings of three-hit, shutout ball

– If the first game between the Gilroy and Hollister baseball
teams is any indication, it’s going to be a very competitive season
in the Tri-County Athletic League.
Gilroy – If the first game between the Gilroy and Hollister baseball teams is any indication, it’s going to be a very competitive season in the Tri-County Athletic League.

The Mustangs battled to a 1-0 win at home against the Haybalers in both teams’ league opener Wednesday afternoon, and the efforts by both teams on the mound, in the field and with the bat were about as evenly-matched as could be.

Hollister head coach Michael Luna thinks it may take only 10 wins in the 15-game TCAL season to take the league title. Gilroy skipper Clint Wheeler believes an 11-4 record would do the trick.

“I definitely think any team in this league is capable of beating the other guy,” Wheeler said. “So if you can go 2-for-3 against everybody, you’re going to win the league.”

Predictions aside, one thing’s for sure. On an almost balmy day at Gilroy High, baseball made its first real appearance of the year the right way – in a tightly fought league opener between two teams with the best kind of rivalry.

Noel DeLatorre picked up the win for Gilroy, pitching five strong innings of three-hit ball. The senior righthander got out of jam in the fifth when Hollister leftfielder Jacob Boyd coaxed a leadoff walk, scurried to second base on a passed ball by Mustang catcher Chris Hernandez and then was awarded third on a balk. With a runner on third and no outs, DeLatorre bore down and got the two strikeouts he needed, whiffing Gabe Gaitan and Drew Quintana. ‘Baler shortstop Geno Fata grounded out to end the inning.

Equally imposing on the mound was Hollister starter Jason Sims. The big righty pitched 5 2/3 innings, striking out five while walking just one, and giving up the one run to Gilroy in the bottom of the second. Sims did his share with the bat as well, crushing a 1-1 offering from DeLatorre to deep centerfield with one out in the fourth for a stand-up double.

Both teams made mistakes in the field – from the physical (an error here, a passed ball there) to the mental (an obstruction call on Hollister’s Fata for pounding his glove). But while Gilroy’s DeLatorre and reliever Peter Mickartz (two innings, two strikeouts and the save) were able to put out any fires developing from miscues, Hollister’s Sims wasn’t so lucky in the second inning.

The Mustangs’ Joe Cano started things off with a single. Hernandez hit a sharp ball to Jeremy Bosio that the third baseman misplayed as Gilroy wound up with runners on first and second on the error. Third baseman Marc Gonzalez collected the Mustangs’ second hit of the inning to load the bases with no outs. Sims struck out centerfielder Josh Sterling, bringing up Michael Stevens, making his very first league start for Gilroy.

It would come down to this – a battle between the burly senior on the hill and the skinny sophomore in the batter’s box. With just one out and needing another strikeout or a pop-up, Sims did his best to overpower Stevens, jam him or get him to chase. But the Mustang second baseman was able to protect the plate and worked a 3-2 count to get the friendly but partisan crowd in a fine fettle for some early drama.

Fouling off several more of Sims’ offerings, Stevens finally connected solidly on the 10th pitch of his at-bat. It wasn’t a majestic shot, but the well-struck ball sailed deep enough into centerfield to drive home Cano for what would be the game’s only run on a sacrifice fly.

“The situation came and I just hit the ball in the air. When there’s one out, you try to hit the ball in the air, sac fly,” said Stevens, who seemed a bit uncomfortable taking any credit for the win away from the pitching of DeLatorre and Mickartz. “I just tried to hit the ball in the air and fortunately it was deep enough to get the run in.”

The second baseman, who also made a tough play deep in the hole on Fata’s grounder to end the Hollister threat in the fifth, said he hoped the Gilroy offense would be able to give the team’s pitchers some more breathing room in the future.

“It starts with pitching in baseball and next time we should get more for them. Fortunately, one did it this time.

Hollister had mounted its own scoring threat in the top of the second. Rightfielder Brian Rossi opened the inning with the first of his two walks on the day. Sims struck out and Rossi was subsequently picked off first by Gilroy’s Hernandez, but the ‘Baler bats were ready to put together a two-out rally. First baseman Breyon Canez connected on a 2-2 pitch down the third base line for a single, then stole second. He wound up on third when Scott Mead followed up with a single, taking second on a throwing error by Gilroy shortstop Drew Andersen.

It looked like Hollister might put up the first runs of the game, but DeLatorre got leftfielder Jacob Boyd to ground out to end the inning.

Rallies that came up just short would prove to be the story of the game for Hollister.

In the fourth, Sims’ one-out double came to naught. In the fifth, the Haybalers’ best shot at scoring was nullified by DeLatorre. And in the sixth, with Mickartz pitching for Gilroy, Rossi got aboard again on a one-out walk, then moved all the way to third on a wild pitch and a fielder’s choice. Hollister needed some two-out heroics from Canez, but the junior grounded out to end the inning.

Luna was a bit chagrined about dropping his first league game as Hollister coach, but the warm weather and solid performance by his team took the edge of his disappointment a bit.

“We had won seven in a row coming into the first league game,” Luna said. “But Clint always does a real good job with his team and we knew it was going to be a tough game.

“DeLatorre pitched extremely well, but our guy pitched pretty good too. He only gave up that one walk,” the coach said, referring to Sims’ sixth inning walk of Hernandez that convinced Luna to lift his starter for Kris Bittner.

“It came down to execution and we didn’t execute. We didn’t execute offensively, we had a couple opportunities to move guys over … on third with nobody out and the next two guys strike out.

“It comes down to which teams make the fewest mistakes, especially in high school ball.”

Wheeler, meanwhile, was happy to pull out the one-run win but was well aware that the Haybalers will have something to prove when Gilroy visits Hollister for a rematch on Friday.

“We talked about it all week, that our pitchers need to go five, and give Peter (Mickartz) the chance to get the save,” he said. “Now hopefully we can get the same kind of performance again on Friday. You know, (Hollister) made a couple of miscues defensively just like we did and we were just able to capitalize on them.

“But I think both teams in the future are going to be able to execute a little bit better. … So I think we’ll see the same type of games all three times (Gilroy and Hollister play), with maybe a little more scoring.

“They’ll still be one-run games.”

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