To say there’s history between the Fallon and Lowry baseball teams would be an understatement.
“It’s becoming a habit. We’re used to it,” Fallon coach Lester de Braga said.
Since realignment three years ago, both teams have met four times in the postseason with the Greenwave getting the upper hand. Fallon blanked Lowry, 1-0, in the state quarterfinals two years ago before beating Boulder City twice to win the program’s first championship in 30 years. Forwarding the clocks to 2012, Lowry won the opener of a three-game regional series in Fallon and was a couple innings away from going back to the state tournament. Instead, Fallon rallied late to force a third game, which saw the Buckaroos leave empty handed again.
But 2013 has a different feel for both teams as the Northern Division I-A Region Baseball Playoffs kick off today in Winnemucca.
No. 3 Fallon opens the double-elimination tournament with No. 2 Lowry in the second game at 11:30 a.m., and the winner faces either No. 1 Elko or No. 4 Truckee, who meet at 9 a.m. Although difficult to peg as an upset, lower-seeded Truckee showed its playoff experience by sweeping Fernley in last week’s play-in series, while Lowry and Elko swept their opponents. Fallon’s bout with South Tahoe was the only series to go all three games.
The slate, however, gets wiped clean just like last weekend when Fallon hosted South Tahoe.
“We expect them to be coming after us and they play solid defense. They’re well coached,” de Braga said of Lowry.
If there’s an area of concern after the play-in series, poor base running nearly doomed Fallon from even making it this far.
“We approached the kids and told them we have to stay aggressive but we have to be smart about it and not change our style of play,” de Braga said about base running. “When the play is in front of them, we have to play smarter.”
The Greenwave’s inability to run the bases led to missed opportunities in the third game when they ran themselves out of three runs. It happened again later in the game when Fallon tried to score on an extra-base hit, and was caught dead at the plate and on a dropped third strike when the runner tried scoring from third.
Those mistakes can’t happen against the North’s best if Fallon wants to visit Sin City next week.
Only two teams will represent the North after three qualified the last two seasons under the old postseason format when the South had fewer schools. After winning state in 2011, Fallon finished third last year with losses to champ Truckee and runner-up Elko, and it looks to nab a third straight appearance in the season’s final tournament.
Unlike last year’s meeting with Lowry, this year’s rematch will be on the Buckaroos’ home field, which Fallon hasn’t fared well the last two years in crossover play.
The Buckaroos dispatched Sparks in two games, including a one-run win in the second, to earn the second seed after finishing behind Elko in the Ruby Mountain League.
De Braga expects the same Lowry team Fallon’s seen in the last two postseasons.
The Buckaroos don’t wait at the plate if the pitch is in the strike zone early in the count. Lowry jumped after the first pitch in the teams’ last playoff meeting, which lasted just over an hour.
But if Fallon gets down early, especially playing away from home, the Greenwave proved last weekend that it can battle from behind.
“It shows character of the team,” de Braga said about battling a deficit. “They never give up and they don’t get down on themselves. I trust the team and they trust each other. The kids are used to it.”
Fallon had to come from behind to win Games 1 and 3 against the Vikings, while ace Tristen Salazar was the hard-luck loser in the second game after pitching the final two innings of Game 1. The Greenwave extended their winning streak to 13 after knocking off the Vikings before the visitors handed the hosts their first defeat in more than a month.
Fallon’s bats came alive in the third game of the series after going silent in the 4-0 loss, but held off South Tahoe to win 5-4 and punch its ticket to the regional tournament.
Nic Stenberg and Hunter Mori, both lefties, helped control South Tahoe in the two wins, while Salazar struggled with his command, which led to the Vikings forcing a third game.
Tyler Sharp was the only Viking to hold Fallon’s offense in check as he limited de Braga’s squad to only five hits. But like it has all season, Fallon rebounded in the finale and relied on its pitching depth to seal the win and series.
Mori gave up only one earned run in the final game while errors led to three crossing the plate. The southpaw, though, wasn’t fazed as he kept Fallon in the game before Morgan Dirickson closed the door on the Vikings’ season. The junior righty pitched the final two innings, striking out the game’s final three batters for the six-out save.
Salazar is slated to start against the Buckaroos while Stenberg will pitch the second game of the tournament.
In the other regional match-up, the hottest team in the North looks to avenge last year’s state championship loss to Truckee.
Elko, which went undefeated in Division I-A play, opens the tournament with the defending state champs. Pitching, though, favors Elko unlike last year’s meeting as Truckee relied on several senior fireballers to carry the Wolverines to their first baseball championship.
“They’re the defending state champs and they have a good program up there,” de Braga said of Truckee. “(Elko) is loaded with seniors and they’re going to come out and play ball. They have a lot of pride. They’re a team that you have to be on your ‘A’ game, but they’re beatable. We’re going to put pressure on them.”