Fallon wins final series faces Fernley in playoff opener
Fallon hasn’t missed the state tournament since 2011, establishing itself as one of the most consistent baseball programs in the region.
The Greenwave will look to ride that experience in this week’s regional tournament, which begins on Thursday with a 10:30 a.m. contest against Fernley at South Tahoe Middle School. Fallon won the series against Sparks last weekend and hasn’t lost a series since April 1 against No. 1 Spring Creek.
But when the first pitch is thrown on Thursday, it will mark the beginning of a new season. Throw out the records from the regular season as Fallon has proven countless times, including upsetting Spring Creek last year to go to state.
“This might sound crazy but I don’t put a lot of emphasis on the league season,” Fallon coach Lester de Braga said. “When the season starts, our goal is to get into the playoffs and get the opportunity to play and in the end have everybody ready. We never want to peak early. We want to peak at the end. I truly believe this team is going to do that. Once playoffs start, it’s a whole new season. That’s what we’re geared up for. That’s what we’re ready for. We’re excited.”
Fallon won the first two games of the Sparks series before dropping the third to finish 16-8 in the 3A North and with the fourth seed. Spring Creek is the top seed and awaits the winner of the Fallon-Fernley game later on Thursday. No. 2 Dayton awaits the winner of Elko-South Tahoe. The top two teams advance to state next week in Las Vegas.
“We played (Fernley) in the last two and a half weeks,” de Braga said. “They’re a team that’s going to come in and play you. They did beat us early in the season. Offensively, we weren’t gelling at that point in time. Again, it’s a different season that starts. We’re not going to overlook them. If we play our game right, I think we’ll be fine.”
De Braga will rely on his 1-2 punch of senior hurler Alex Mendez and rising sophomore Hayden Strasdin on the hill. A starter hasn’t been picked for the Fernley game and new this postseason will be the pitch count that limits pitchers to 110 pitches per game or 140 in a four-day span.
“It is a little different format than it’s been in the past,” de Braga added. “With our pitching, it’s very, very manageable. We seem to be sitting as good as anybody. I think I have two of the top pitchers in the league on my roster. That’s why playoffs are a different ball game than the regular season because we have the advantage with our arms.”
At the plate, Jack Swisher, Brock Uptain, Brock Richardson, Jake Wickizer, Mendez and Strasdin have been consistent in hitting above the .300 mark. Fallon has outscored the opposition 183-112 this season. De Braga said Fallon hasn’t hit the ceiling yet with their hitting.
“I would say that’s something we haven’t peaked on it. I see it coming,” de Braga said. “That’s what we’re going to work on hard this week. We’ve been getting quite a few hits. Sometimes, it’s not putting two, three hits together at one time. Everybody seems to be hitting the ball now. Once we get in the grove, we’re going to be one of those teams that’s hard to stop.”
Fallon’s bats came alive against Sparks in 9-1 and 15-0 wins but suffered a minor outage in a 5-4 loss. Mendez and Strasdin pitched the first two games while Alex Vest took the loss in the finale. Winning the series would put Fallon in a tie for Elko and facing South Tahoe in the playoffs. But Fallon needed help to get one of the two byes.
“We like to have the sweep and that would have been key,” de Braga said. “But we would have needed other things to take place in the league to get the one or two seed.”
A win against Fernley, though, puts Fallon against Spring Creek while a loss doesn’t end the season. De Braga likes his team’s chances in this year’s tournament but said the league has been more even.
“Even the first game isn’t do or die,” he said. “Of course, we want to win it. We still live for another day. That’s something we’re going to look at and make that determination. That’s something we’ve strived for all year. Our game plan will be to go win it.”
One team will punch its ticket to state with two wins on Thursday as the tournament continues on Friday with elimination games before Saturday’s regional championship. Fallon fought off elimination last season as it and Elko qualified for state. De Braga’s hoping for the same result after his team won it all two years ago.
“I think that’s why I feel so comfortable and excited right now,” he said. “We’ve been there and done that. It’s something that doesn’t scare us. It’s something that we’ve coached since Day 1 when the season began and what it’s going to take to win it. There’s a lot of mental toughness to this part of the season. We’re always comfortable. We just have to go in and do our job and everything will fall into place like it’s supposed to.”