Locked and Loaded
The 2014 Northern Division I-A regional baseball tournament is today and Saturday at South Tahoe Middle School, 2940, Lake Tahoe Blvd., South Lake Tahoe, Calif.
Today’s games start at 10 a.m. with No. 1 Elko and No. 4 South Tahoe. No. 2 Fallon and No. 3 Spring Creek follow at 12:30 p.m.
Ticket prices for both days are $10 per adult, $5 for students, $3 for seniors (62 and older) and free for children 8 and under.
Since winning the state title in 2011, it has been increasingly difficult to reach the championship game.
After winning the school’s first title in more than 30 years with a pitching performance for the ages in 2011, the Fallon baseball team fell one win shy of reaching the title game the following year before being ousted by Truckee.
But the road to this year’s state tournament in Reno begins today as Fallon qualified for the Northern Division I-A regional for the fourth-straight year.
The two-day double-elimination tournament will be played at South Tahoe Middle School’s Todd Fields. Fallon (17-7), the second seed, faces No. 3 Spring Creek (15-9) at 12:30 p.m., while No. 1 Elko (17-7) takes on No. 4 South Tahoe (15-9) at 10 a.m.
The state tournament is in Reno next week at Sparks High School and the University of Nevada’s Peccole Park.
“We’ve had a good week of practice and the kids are ready to roll,” fourth-year Fallon coach Lester de Braga said. “During the league season, we didn’t focus a whole lot on the league title, but we’re peaking at the right time.”
Elko, last year’s regional winner, and Fallon return to the postseason while the four-team field welcomes two unfamiliar faces in Spring Creek and South Tahoe. The Vikings are making their first trip to the playoffs in 20 years and only second time in program history.
This year’s tournament, though, appears more competitive than last year when Elko topped Truckee in the championship.
“You have four of the best teams in the tournament. On any given day, anyone can beat anybody,” de Braga said. “The format is good and you need to win at least two games to get into state.”
Fallon won its season series against Spring Creek (3-0) and South Tahoe (2-1), but was swept by Elko. The Vikings took two of three from Elko.
“Last year hurt us a lot,” Fallon senior Tyler Bagby added. “It hurts coming that close and then dropping one to Elko to get knocked out (of the championship bracket). This year we are looking for a state title and nothing will satisfy us unless it is a state title.”
For Fallon to rid the foul taste of missing out on last year’s state tournament, it will turn to its strong pitching corps, led by senior Tristen Salazar, junior Riley Williams and freshman Alex Mendez.
Williams (3-0) leads the team with a 2.50 ERA in 28 innings, while Salazar and Mendez have been the team’s go-to pitchers. Each posts a 4-2 record with Mendez tallying a 3.10 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 29.1 innings mostly in relief, and Salazar sports a 3.19 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 48.1 innings.
Fellow starters Joe Pyle and Cody Long add depth to the pitching staff as each has logged in at least 22 innings.
“We’ve got some kids coming back from last year’s team that competed in the regional tournament. It’s nothing new to us,” de Braga said about Fallon’s experience being an advantage.
The offense has been more explosive this season as Fallon won all but one series during the regular season.
Bagby is Fallon’s strongest and most consistent hitter as he leads the team with six home runs, 32 RBIs and a .494 batting average. Pyle (.460), Long (.448) and Branden Beeghly (.438) nearly approached the .500 mark with Long also driving in 29 runs and Beeghly with 23. Three players recorded double-digits in steals this season with Bagby leading with 12, Austin Bischoff swiping 11 bags and Dalton Frank with 10.
“I think this year we are a totally different ball club,” Bagby said. “We are way more fundamentally sound and a better hitting team. Our coaches put in a lot of time and I think that it is a letdown if we don’t go to state.”
Fallon matches up well with the tournament field, even though it was swept by Elko last month.
The Indians provide the toughest challenge as they’re the defending regional champs and are led by Jacob Conklin, who’s hitting .493 with one home run and 28 RBIs. Chad Schumacher comes in with a .436 average, followed by Dalton Ridgway at .417. Ridgway’s also the team’s ace, posting a 5-2 record and 1.98 ERA in 53 innings.
Kyle Whitted is Elko’s strikeout leader with 56 in 42.1 innings as he enters with a 4-2 record and 2.48 ERA, while Conklin is 6-0 with a 3.72 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 37.2 innings.
Spring Creek has improved since being swept in Fallon earlier in the season.
Zack Zeiler leads the team with a .397 batting average and 23 RBIs, while Lane Newman is the home run and RBI king with two dingers and 36 runs driven in. Mike Smith has a .391 batting average and leads the team in triples with four.
Zeiler is also the team’s leader on the hill as the senior hurler posts an 8-1 record, 2.41 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 61 innings. Smith yields a 4.20 ERA in 48.1 innings although he’s 5-1 on the season.
2014 is South Tahoe’s year to shine as the Vikings clinched the program’s second-ever postseason berth.
Dominic Diana leads the Vikings with a .547 batting average, three home runs and 48 RBIs, while River Quinn has been nearly as impressive with a .508 average and 17 RBIs.
The pitching staff, though, hasn’t matched the offense’s success with the team posting an overall ERA of 6.19. Liam Loftis leads the team with a 5-4 record, 30 strikeouts and 4.29 ERA in 45.2 innings, is suspended from the team and will not play this weekend. Dakota Lynch and Garrett Harley have combined for 80 innings and a 5.27 ERA.