Wave baseball opens with surging Dayton in regional tournament

Fallon's Kendall Johnson hurls a pitch in the doubleheader at Sparks on Monday.

Fallon's Kendall Johnson hurls a pitch in the doubleheader at Sparks on Monday.

There’s a new alpha in baseball entering the postseason.

Spring Creek claimed the regular season Division I-A title and will host the six-team regional tournament, which begins Thursday. The host Spartans won the division by taking the three-game series against county rival Elko coupled with Elko forfeiting three games because of violating NIAA rules.

“Basically we’ve kind of been struggling throughout the season,” Fallon coach Lester de Braga said. “We’re an experienced team. You just have to beat who’s in front of you.”

Fallon (16-8), the defending state champ and No. 4 seed, faces No. 5 seed Dayton (12-11) at 8 a.m. with the winner facing Spring Creek (20-4) at 1 p.m. Dayton bested Fallon in a three-game series two weeks ago.

No. 3 Elko (17-7) faces No. 6 South Tahoe (9-15) at 10:30 a.m. with the winner playing No. 2 Fernley (18-6) at 3:30 p.m. The championship game is at 1 p.m. on Saturday and the top two teams qualify for next week’s state tournament in Reno.

For the Greenwave, they’ve been in this position before and experience has never hurt.

Since 2011 Fallon is the only northern team to win the Division I-A state title twice after capturing the crown in its first year in the new league, and then held off Faith Lutheran in last year’s battle. Fallon also has the most state baseball championships in the state with 10.

“We’re peaking at the right time,” said junior starting pitcher Alex Mendez. “It doesn’t matter what seed. The playoffs are a new season.”

Mendez, the team’s ace, has been rocky this year but when he’s on point, he’s been dominant. Mendez has been plagued with arm soreness and strain but is back to full strength.

“I’m feeling a lot better. Compared to last year, I might have struggled with my arm,” said Mendez, who had a 4.20 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 39 innings going into the Sparks series. “It’s going better with therapy and working on mechanics this year. It’s been frustrating but the team is working better.”

Add in senior Kendall Johnson and Calvin Greenwell to the rotation and the Greenwave’s capable of shutting the opposition but it will need to rely on depth since it will take three wins to reach the title bout and four to win its third regional title in a row.

“Alex is on top of his game,” de Braga said. “He’s back in shape and healing. Right now, we have three starters ready to go. The relief is good and the closers will help us down the road.”

Greenwell boasted a 1.77 ERA in 23.2 innings while Johnson was at 3.27 in 45 innings. Johnson led the team in strikeouts with 48. Branden Beeghly and Clay Davison have pitched in relief.

“I didn’t expect to do this well this season,” Johnson said of his success. “I just go out, throw the ball and do well. We’re feeling pretty great. We just need to do our job and work hard in practice.”

Trae Workman, Marshall Coverston, Jack Swisher, Brock Uptain and Cameron Beyer have been swinging well. Before the Sparks series, Workman led the team with a .438 batting average in 90 appearances while Uptain was hitting .382, Coverston was at .373 and Swisher is .358. Beyer was the team leader in RBIs with 20.

Speed and converting with runners in scoring position have hurt the Greenwave during the season but the Sparks series helped Fallon get back on track.

“If you look at the score book, we’ve left a lot of runners on,” de Braga said. “We didn’t stress a lot that it’s important to win these league games. It’s good to get to the playoffs and we’re peaking at the right time.”

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