One of the hottest teams in Northern Nevada is five wins away from making it back to the state tournament for the third year in a row.
But before the Greenwave baseball team can worry about which movies to load onto their iPad to Las Vegas, No. 3 Fallon (8-4) entertains No. 6 South Tahoe (5-7) for a three-game series of the Northern Division I-A play-in round, beginning with the first two games this afternoon at 2 p.m. at the Ed Arciniega Athletic Complex. The winner of the series moves onto next week’s four-team double-elimination regional tournament in Winnemucca where the top two advance to the state tournament in Las Vegas in two weeks.
Fallon enters the postseason riding a 12-game winning streak after going undefeated in the Lahontan League. The Greenwave, who never lost in April, easily swept Silver Stage and Pershing County in doubleheaders before finishing off Fernley and Dayton. Fallon’s toughest challenge during the stretch came with Yerington as the Lions nearly defeated the Lahontan Valley school in last week’s regular-season finale.
“It’s the longest winning streak,” Fallon coach Lester de Braga said of his three years. “Two years ago, we went 13-1 or 13-2. They peaked at the right time. Being able to sweep the league title was the biggest accomplishment when compared to the other two teams (during the regular season).”
As the saying goes, the playoffs are a new season for all eight teams playing this weekend.
The only team hotter than Fallon is top dog Elko, which not only went undefeated in the Ruby Mountain but it swept both crossovers against the Mount Rose and Lahontan. The Indians haven’t lost to a Nevada opponent since early March in the Mike Bearman Tournament in Reno. Elko had a 14-game winning streak snap during a spring break tournament but has won eight in a row since that defeat.
Lowry finished second in the division but holds the tiebreaker over Fallon while Fernley picked up the fourth seed. No. 1 Elko (12-0) hosts No. 8 Spring Creek (2-10), No. 2 Lowry (8-4) welcomes No. 7 Sparks (5-7) and defending state champ and No. 5 Truckee (6-6) travels to No. 4 Fernley (6-6). The Vaqueros defeated the Wolverines in the crossover to earn the fourth seed.
But like the last two times Fallon advanced to the state tournament, de Braga’s philosophy hasn’t changed. He continues to preach about the importance of focusing on the team itself and not worrying about South Tahoe, next week’s regional tournament or even the state tournament.
“We haven’t even talked about next week at all,” de Braga said. “We haven’t heard a word from the kids. They’re focused on this weekend.”
De Braga plans on starting southpaw junior Nic Stenberg in today’s first game against the Vikings and will hand the ball to right-handed flamethrower Tristan Salazar in Game 2.
“We just work in the bullpen and focus on keeping the ball down,” Salazar said. “I think as long as we stick to how we’ve been playing, we’ll be fine.”
Salazar pitched against South Tahoe in March but de Braga wanted to give the lake school a different look to open the three-game series.
“(Nic) has developed into a very good pitcher. He’s developed into one of our go-to guys,” de Braga said. “He’s the type of pitcher with a lot of movement on his fastball. He has a great curveball and his two-seam fastball tails on a bit and seems most effective.”
Stenberg and Salazar last started against Fernley two weeks ago with both shutting down the Vaqueros. Salazar picked up his fourth complete game of the season and with a first-game win, the junior hurler will be pitching the clincher for next week’s tournament.
“He’s a competitor and almost demands the ball,” de Braga said. “He’s our go-to guy when we get in trouble. When he doesn’t start the game, he’ll come in and close. He has a tremendous fastball and the curveball’s been working for him.”
The offense appears to be clicking well for Fallon after a slow start in March. Coupled with senior catcher Garrett Llamas’ season-ending injury and de Braga getting a feel for his new lineup, the Greenwave started off with a losing record before jumping into league play.
“We had big expectations up until then,” de Braga said when he found out that Llamas would be out for the year. “It would have helped for them to respond sooner than they did. We wanted them to take a big step but they were taking baby steps, sometimes even crawling. We’ve got 10, 12 kids who can play. The strength is everyone has accepted their role and done their job.”
And it all starts with sophomore leadoff hitter Dalton Frank.
Frank has turned into one of Fallon’s sparkplugs in the second half of the season and will need to continue his streak to keep Fallon playing past this weekend.
“He’s finally learning to figure out what the leadoff role is,” de Braga said. “You take pitches, work the count and try to get on base. He also has really good power. He’s going to be a tremendous player for us down the road.”
After Frank, de Braga will rely on Clay Amezquita (second base), Dalton Johnson (third base), Cody Long (first base/DH), Salazar (pitcher/outfield), Stenberg (pitcher/outfield), Tyler Bagby (catcher), Hunter Mori (outfield/pitcher), Dylan Tedford (outfield) and Sage Orozco (shortstop) to keep the offense going. De Braga also has many options off the bench and will count on Austin Bischoff and Sage Mori, who were both called up from the JV team, as well as Ryan Merkley and Tedford for speed on the bases. When Fallon’s in need of a big bat, Joe Pyle, Riley Williams and Mo Coverston are available.
“We just got to keep hitting and hitting in the gaps,” Johnson said. “We haven’t been really making any errors either. We have the potential to go to state.”
South Tahoe is arguably the most improved team in the Northern DI-A. After missing out on the playoffs the last two years, the Vikings have played the North much tougher.
But Fallon’s counting on locking up home-field advantage to help like it did last season against Lowry. Fallon lost the first game and trailed late in the second before storming back to win the last two games and the series to go to state.
“Anytime you secure home-field advantage, you know the field, how it plays and you get excited,” de Braga said. “All of that played a part last year getting past Lowry and into state.”
South Tahoe almost beat Fallon and Fernley in the crossover, losing by a run each time. The Vikings had a tougher time with the Mount Rose but won its series against Sparks and after blanking Truckee 10-0 in the series opener, they lost the next two to finish one game shy of winning the league crown.
“We expect a different team. We have changed quite a bit, too,” de Braga said. “They’re hungry to advance on as we are. We have to play our game.”
Dominic Diana, a junior, leads the team with a .439 batting average in a team-high 91 plate appearances. While the junior hasn’t blasted one over the fence, he leads the team with 10 doubles four triples and 37 RBIs. Senior Tyler Sharp is South Tahoe’s home-run leader with three dingers and has driven in 34 runs while batting .364. Aside from Diana and Sharp, the Vikings have four batting above the .300 mark with at least 60 plate appearances.
South Tahoe has some speed on the bases with Diana leading the team with eight stolen bases and junior Sergio Burgueno with five.
The Vikings have two pitchers who logged more than 40 innings this season.
Sophomore hurler Jordan Mann leads the club in ERA with at least 16 innings pitched as he comes into this series with a 2.69 ERA in 11 appearances. Mann (4-3) has given up 25 hits in 41.2 innings but leads the team in strikeouts with 55 although he’s walked 21.
Not only can Sharp get it done at the plate, but he’s been South Tahoe’s No. 2 pitcher this season. He’s been more susceptible than Mann with a 5.47 ERA in 47.1 innings. He’s given up 45 hits and 27 walks despite striking out 39 batters and possessing a 7-1 record.
Seniors Cody Higgins and Bobby Gonzales have logged just above 30 innings collectively coming in relief.