Fallon drops heartbreaker to Elko in regional exit
Elko Daily Free Press
SOUTH TAHOE — It’s not playoff baseball when Elko and Fallon aren’t battling each other with everything at stake.
The Indians baseball team defeated Fallon in last year’s regional title after the Greenwave got the upperhand two years ago before winning the state title.
Unfortunately for the green and white, though, Elko ended Fallon’s season on Saturday to punch its ticket to this week’s state tournament in Las Vegas. After Fallon roared back in the consolation bracket with two wins, it couldn’t get past Elko, losing 4-1, at South Tahoe Middle School.
“Elko’s always a team you’ve got to look out for. They’ve got the experience to play at the state level,” Fallon coach Lester de Braga said. “That’s a team we always have to keep our eye out for. It came down to the wire against them. That’s a team you can’t make mistakes against. You have to play a perfect game. Hat’s off to them. They battled. It’s actually a rivalry I enjoy playing. You try to do your best and hope you come out on top.”
For the second time in the Division 3A North tournament, Elko coach Shane Gilligan gave the ball to freshman pitcher Colby Tiner, who threw like a seasoned vet.
After leading the Indians to a 3-1 win in their opener Thursday over South Tahoe, Tiner allowed one unearned run through four innings against the Greenwave before being removed due to reaching his limit of outs for a four-day stretch.
“To give the ball to a freshman in the tournament opener and have him throw a complete game and then turn around and give up one unearned run against a team as potent as Fallon is incredible,” Gilligan said. “Fernley’s coach, Jerry Torres, told me ‘you can’t look at that kid and tell if he is throwing well or pitching badly.’ His expression never changes much. He doesn’t get too high or too low and that’s a good thing. You get too high, you’ll get humbled quickly. You get too low and keep yourself from being as good as you can be.”
The victory did not come easily, however, as Elko faced the daunting task of trying to come up with hits against Fallon senior ace Alex Mendez, who took the loss on Thursday against top-seeded Spring Creek.
“Alex has been superb all year. We relied on him, figuring he was our No.1 guy,” de Braga said. “The game changes daily. He may have not had his best outing against Spring Creek but you have to give credit to him for battling.
“He pitched excellence. We ran out of pitching and had to go another route and ended up losing the game.”
Defense was the name of the game throughout the majority of the contest.
Fallon broke the scoreless tie in the top of the second inning, scoring on a single by senior Brock Uptain that took a bad hop and jumped over sophomore Kaleb Martinez at third base.
The base hit drove in sophomore Hayden Strasdin and put the Greenwave on top 1-0.
Elko escaped the inning with a 5-4-3 double play from Martinez to sophomore Austyn Marin, who completed the play with a throw to junior Kamren Backherms at first base.
Mendez retired the Elko side in order in the bottom of the second, but Tiner returned the favor against the Greenwave in the top of the third inning.
Elko tied the defensive battle in the bottom of the third.
Senior Carlos Loera was hit by a pitch in the leadoff position and advanced to second base on a bunt by junior Gavin Byington.
Marin drilled a double to center field, scoring Loera.
Senior Alec Wall was hit by a pitch in the hamstring, but Elko stranded two runners lining into a double play.
Fallon gained consecutive one-out singles in the top of the fourth from sophomore Edgar Alvarado and senior Jack Swisher, but two fly balls ended the frame.
The Indians managed a single by junior Ryan Wickersham in the bottom of the fourth, and Fallon threatened to score in the top of the fifth.
Senior Colton Coverston led off and was hit by a pitch, and freshman Brock Richardson advanced the courtesy runner to third with a base hit.
Following a fly out, junior Julian Loera came up money on the mound for the Indians.
He struck down an attempted steal of second base with a throw to Marin and ended the inning with a strikeout, leaving two runners on base.
Byington reached for the Indians on an error in the bottom of the fifth inning with one out, but Elko hit into a double play on a great grab by sophomore Sean McCormick on a rocket ball by Marin at second base, firing to Swisher at first to end the frame.
The Indians retired the Greenwave in order in the top of the sixth inning, and the complexion of the contest flipped a 180 in the bottom half.
Entering the game, Mendez had 69 pitches available for the remainder of the tourney and had thrown 65 after the fifth inning.
Wall watched two balls and a strike to lead off the bottom of the sixth, and he sent Mendez’s 140th pitch of the tournament to deep-center field.
The near home run went to the wall, Wall hit the gas, his foot slid into third with a triple and the Indians were in business.
Backherms hit a groundball down the left-field line and the ball bounced off the chest of the third baseman, giving senior courtesy runner Josh Jonas a run to the dish and a 2-1 lead for the Indians.
The difference in the game came from an all-out battle with one out and runners on first and second.
Wickersham fell behind 0-2, fouled off four pitches and watched three balls — one allowing Backherms and junior Cooper Jones to advance to second and third on a passed ball.
On the 10th pitch of the at-bat, Wickersham ripped a two-RBI double to right field — driving in Backherms and Jones for a 4-1 lead.
Strasdin hit a leadoff single for Fallon in the top of the seventh, and Richardson drove a base hit to right field with two outs — but a harmless groundout to Backherms at first base sent Elko to the state tournament for the third-consecutive season.
The Indians came up with a clutch 4-1 victory and moved into the regional championship round.
Wickersham led Elko with two RBIs, each coming on his double in the bottom of the sixth inning.
He finished 2-for-3 at the plate, as did Marin — who also hit a double and drove in a run.
Elko’s other RBI came from Backherms.
Fallon 10, Fernley 0
The Greenwave defeated its cross-valley rival on Thursday for the third-straight time after Brenden Larsen pitched a complete-game shutout. Larsen struck out four and held Fernley to three hits.
Edgar Alvarado’s grand slam gave Fallon all the offense it needed. After Fallon scored one in the first inning, Alvarado’s blast in the following inning broke the game open.
Colton Coverston, Sean McCormick and Jack Swisher each had two hits with McCormick collecting two RBIs. Jake Wickizer, Brock Uptain and Chase Irvin also drove in a run.
Spring Creek 10, Fallon 4
The last time Fallon lost a series was against Spring Creek in the beginning of the season. The Spartans got the best of Fallon in Thursday’s quarterfinal game.
Alex Mendez took the loss, surrendering seven runs in 4.1 innings. Uptain and Wickizer led Fallon at the plate with two hits apiece. Alvarado and Uptain had the team’s only RBIs.
Fallon 10, South Tahoe 6
A day after blasting a grand slam, Alvarado kept Fallon in the tournament with his arm. Despite allowing five earned runs in 5.1 innings, he grinded through his performance as Fallon’s bats caused problems for the host.
Brock Richardson led Fallon with three hits, while Alvarado drove in three on two hits and Wickizer had two hits, too. Hayden Strasdin, who also pitched, drove in a run, as did Coverston, Mendez and Uptain.
Fallon 9, Dayton 1
De Braga turned to his sophomore hurler on Friday to get his team one win closer to a state berth.
Strasdin pitched a two-hitter, sending the No. 2 seed home. Alvarado continued his streak in the tournament with three hits and three RBIs while Mendez, McCormick and Uptain each had two hits and an RBI. Swisher drove in two and Irvin had an RBI.
“We probably played some of the best ball all year coming into the Saturday game,” de Braga said about Friday’s wins. “We were on a roll. We were at our peak. The kids did everything we asked of them. A hit here or there would have made a difference in the (Elko) game.”
Thomas Ranson contributed to this story.