BASEBALL: Mustangs can’t hold lead against Balers, fall 8-7


Craig Slibsager’s full-count solo homer in the top of the
seventh inning snapped a 7-7 ball game and lifted the San Benito
High baseball team not only to a come-from-behind 8-7 victory over
the Gilroy Mustangs, but also to an outright claim on its sixth
straight Tri-County Athletic League title.

With one swing, Craig Slibsager changed the scoreboard.

His monstrous moon shot in the seventh inning even cleared the scoreboard as well.

“I expected a fastball right there,” said Slibsager, whose game-changing blast at Gilroy Thursday easily cleared the 20- to 25-foot scoreboard in left-center field – a home run shot that was as significant as it was deep.

“I just tried to shorten my swing and take a step,” he added. “He threw a fastball waist-high, and I let the hands fly.”

Slibsager’s full-count solo homer in the top of the seventh inning snapped a 7-7 ball game and lifted the San Benito High baseball team not only to a come-from-behind 8-7 victory over the Gilroy Mustangs, but also to an outright claim on its sixth straight Tri-County Athletic League title.

“This is pretty huge, especially being at Gilroy,” San Benito starting pitcher Bryan Granger (7IP, 9H, 7R, 5K, 3BB) said, moments after the Balers spilled from the dugout and formed a dogpile atop the right-handed hurler.

“It makes you feel a lot better,” he added.

Although San Benito (15-3 TCAL, 19-7) had wrapped up at least a share of the TCAL title on Tuesday – with its win over Alisal and Palma’s loss to Salinas – an outright stake on the league championship wasn’t yet a given.

It had to beat Gilroy first. Otherwise, a co-championship would have been the case, and possibly even a three-way title split among San Benito, Palma and Salinas.

And early on, it was looking like that might actually be the outcome, as Gilroy (10-8 TCAL, 15-12) controlled a 6-2 lead entering the top half of the fifth inning.

“Hollister, I’ve just got to tip my hat off to them. They just keep fighting,” Gilroy manager Johnny Ramirez said. “My boys tried to hang with them – fight, fight, fight. Hollister just keeps going. When they get a mistake, they don’t miss it.”

The win provides San Benito with a three-game season series sweep over the Mustangs, while the Balers have now won four straight over their league rivals, and 11 of their last 12.

A no-doubt-about-it laser over the left-field wall by Eric Vegas in the home half of the first did provide an early bump to Gilroy’s spirits, however. In the previous two games this season, the Mustangs have fell behind early and were never able to recover.

Although the Balers answered right back when Tyller Smith lifted a 1-2 pitch over the left-field fence in the second inning – just one of four homers to left field in the game – Gilroy responded to the tune of four unanswered runs.

“I wanted to kind of set the tone off them,” Ramirez said. “You can’t let Hollister hang around. I wanted to set the pace right away out of the gate. And I thought we had it – 6-2. We kept doing everything right …”

A well executed two-out, hit-and-run play by Brendon Holler in the home half of the second led to Gilroy plating three runs in the inning. Starting pitcher Ryan Alba (5.2IP, 6H, 7R, 2K, 8BB) helped his own cause one batter later when he connected on an RBI single to center field, scoring Peter Palma from second base, while teammate Ronnie Reed chased Holler and Alba home with a two-RBI double over the outreached glove of the San Benito left fielder.

Jordan Dexter then padded Gilroy’s lead in the third inning when he lifted a bloop single to shallow left field, easily scoring Vegas from third base.

It was 6-2 at that point, and Gilroy had managed to score at least one run in the first three innings.

But it wasn’t enough. Granger settled down, and San Benito’s comeback officially kicked off in the top of the fifth inning.

“Granger. Seven innings, man,” Ramirez said. “It seemed like he was the starter, the middle reliever and the closer today for Hollister.”

And San Benito began to finally break through Alba, too.

In the fifth, a leadoff double by Marcus Sabatte, coupled with a walk to Jacob Tonascia, set up a wild sacrifice bunt attempt by Ryan Jacob – yes, a wild sacrifice bunt attempt.

Jacob laid down the bunt to the left side, and appeared he might beat the throw to first base when the throw sailed high. Jacob collided with the first baseman as a result, and the ball rolled into deep right field, scoring Sabatte and Tonascia easily.

Jacob, trying to extend the play to third, was thrown out. But the deficit was cut in half, nonetheless, and a noticeable uptick in play by the Balers followed.

“It was a great game – both ways,” Ramirez said. “I told my guys, ‘Don’t hang your head.’ You went toe-to-toe with them, and, again, it’s one of those things where you take away those last two innings, and we come away with the win.

“A pass ball here, a home run and an error. It’d be different.”

It wasn’t until the sixth when San Benito grabbed the lead. With runners at first and third, Daniel Arevalo lifted an RBI single to center field, scoring Dustin Rovella, while Matt Vallejo advanced to third on the play as well.

But the ball from center field was overthrown at third and Vallejo scored as a result, while a hustling Arevalo slid into second just in time to be awarded third base on the overthrow, which sailed into the San Benito dugout.

It was a key hustle play, too. Three batters later, reliever Eric Brolin (1.1IP, 1H, 1R, 1K) bounced one in the dirt and Arevalo scored the go-ahead run.

The lead was short lived, though. In the very next frame, San Benito appeared to erase a threat when, after Granger issued a leadoff walk, the Balers turned a 6-5-3 double play on a sac bunt attempt. The very next batter, though, tied the game with one swing.

Peter Palma liked the very first pitch he saw off Granger and skied it over the left-field fence, which read 310 feet, but might as well have been 110 feet, as players from both teams took advantage of the wind and seemingly short porch.

Slibsager was also one of them, though.

And, in the seventh inning, with the game knotted at 7, he didn’t miss it.

“He was on it all day,” Ramirez said. “He was about due.”

“I knew the hit was good off the bat,” Slibsager said. “I couldn’t see it when it landed.”

“That’s because you couldn’t see it when it landed,” added a nearby Jacob Tonascia.

The lead wasn’t safe just yet, though. In the seventh, Gilroy’s Ronnie Reed led off with a single to right, while the meat of the Mustangs’ order – Bubu Garcia, Eric Vegas and Reed Kienle – followed.

But Granger, still pitching, managed to go in order, striking out two batters.

“You always have to have a little extra,” Granger said afterward.

Despite the loss, Ramirez is confident the Mustangs will advance to next week’s Central Coast Section Division I Championships. Though now, the team will likely be playing on the road.

“We were pretty much in, from what I’ve heard,” Ramirez said. “Where we get seeded may be different now.”

As champions of the TCAL, meanwhile, San Benito will be seeded much higher than the Mustangs, although its regular season isn’t over just yet.

The Balers will host Oak Grove on Friday afternoon in Hollister. First pitch is 3:30 p.m.

SANB – 020 023 1 – 8 7 1

GILR – 231 001 0 – 7 9 2

WP: B. Granger

LP: E. Brolin

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