As with every season, winning the first game in league play is a must. For the San Benito and Gilroy high baseball teams, a league-opening win meant even more, as the Balers try to earn a seventh-straight Tri-County Athletic League title and the Mustangs try knock their rival off that perch.
After one game, San Benito still holds the advantage.
The San Benito baseball team opened the TCAL season Tuesday with a come-from-behind 11-6 victory over league-rival Gilroy High.
The win, though, wasn’t perfect as both teams struggled to find the strike zone and field the ball. In a sloppy game, which included 10 errors, 14 walks and three hit batters, San Benito took advantage with a six-run fifth inning to take control of the game.
The Mustangs entered the bottom of the fifth inning with a seemingly commanding 6-3 lead, but their defense let them down, manager Jared Gamble said.
“They can score runs and they can compete,” Gamble said of his team. “They lost it on the fielding. You can’t win a game on errors. Crucial errors lead to extended innings and a lot of unearned runs. Even the walks, those will come and go. If we can get outs where we are supposed to get outs, the game will go quicker and we’ll be able to control the game a little better.”
Gilroy did have its chances, though, as the Balers struggled with similar issues in the game.
“They got their runs because we walked a lot of hitters,” San Benito manager Billy Aviles said. “Bottom line, we have to throw strikes and play catch. We kind of let them back into the game. We had them on the ropes but we didn’t put them a way. That was a big factor.”
And the mistakes started early for both teams.
After two quick outs in the bottom of the first inning, San Benito second baseman Marcus Sabatte walked and stole second.
Third baseman Craig Slibsager followed with a walk. A couple of pitches later, first baseman Jacob Tonascia, playing in only his second game, lined a drive into left field. The ball kicked off the grass and over the head of Gilroy left fielder Sammy Aptkar, allowing both Slibsager and Sabatte to score and give the Balers an early 2-0 lead.
The lead was short-lived, though.
Starting with a one-out double by Gilroy third baseman Marcus Medina in the second inning, the Mustangs rallied for two runs off an error and two walks from San Benito. In the inning, San Benito starter Justin Goodwin struggled with control and was pulled after recording only one out.
After Medina’s double down the left-field line, Gilroy’s next batter – left fielder Sammy Aptkar – hit a sharp grounder to San Benito shortstop Ryan Jacob, but the ball bounced over the head and glove of Jacob.
Second baseman Bubba Lara and Ryan Alba each followed with a walk, driving in a run and setting up Ronny Reed for a game-tying sacrifice fly.
After Gilroy tied the game, Gilroy starter Alba settled down and held San Benito to only one run over the next two innings.
But it was the fifth inning where the game changed dramatically.
Gilroy jumped on San Benito relief pitcher Skyler Fuss in the top of the fifth.
Gilroy solved the Baler right-hander and struck for four runs in the inning. To start the rally, the Mustangs’ first three batters reached base. Jordan Dexter – the inning’s fifth batter – drove in the first run of the inning with a sharp single into left field.
Two batters later, Brendan Holler belted a ball into the right-center outfield gap to drive in a pair of runs.
“I’ve told the kids all year, they can fight,” Gamble said. “They can swing the bat with the best of them. They swing the bats and score runs. I know that’s not a problem.”
But defense was.
Thanks to two Mustang errors, San Benito quickly responded in the bottom of the inning, scoring six runs to take control of the contest.
After a lead-off walk, San Benito’s first four batters reached base. Despite only three singles in the inning, the Balers piled on runs, collecting four walks.
Before the bottom of the inning, Aviles huddled with the team outside the dugout and told them to settle down, Aviles said.
“I just told them to stay within themselves and not do too much,” Aviles said. “They got selective and they got pitches they could hit. They got very selective at the plate and we scored.”
For Gilroy, the disappointing inning handed the loss to Alba.
“He pitched great,” Gamble said. “He is always a slow starter, but once he gets into the groove, he brought it to them. He wasn’t an all-league pitcher for nothing last year. He is a stud. The team should feel bad for playing sloppy defense out there. He shouldn’t get the loss.”
Alba threw four and one-third innings and allowed seven runs – four coming in the fifth inning.
The Balers added two insurance runs in the sixth inning to extend to a 11-6 lead.
San Benito senior Cody Gessel closed the win by striking out two of the final three Gilroy batters.
The victory gives San Benito a 3-2 overall record, and gets the team off to a 1-0 start in TCAL play. Gilroy falls to a 2-1 overall record.
After losing four all-league selections from last year’s team, San Benito needed to get off to a fast start, Slibsager said.
“It’s huge to get off to a good start,” he said. “Nobody wants to start the season off with a loss – especially here at home.”
San Benito and Gilroy continue league play at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at Gilroy High.