ORANGEVALE — Jaime Gonzalez found different ways to get on the base paths for the Liberty Ranch High baseball team.
But Casa Roble pitcher Hunter Hayes and his Rams’ teammates found another path toward success against the Hawks. That led to Casa Roble ending No. 7 seed Liberty Ranch’s run in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs on Friday with a 4-1 win.
“I really feel it was a 2-1 ball game,” said Liberty Ranch coach Wade Isbell. “Everything didn’t fall with what we wanted to have happen today.”
Casa Roble, the No. 2 seed, advances to the four-team, double-elimination portion of the playoffs against No.7 seed Livingston, which knocked off No. 3 Woodland 5-0.They will play at Zupo Field on Monday, rain and field conditions permitting. The other two teams still alive and will be playing at Zupo Field are top-seed Los Banos taking on No. 4 Central Catholic of Modesto.
The first time Gonzalez reached base for Liberty Ranch (18-10) was in the top of the first inning on an infield single; a slow roller in front of the pitcher’s mound that Hayes and catcher Tristan Nash raced toward it. By the time Nash picked up the baseball, Gonzalez had already touched first base.
Gonzalez moved to second base on a Rams’ failed pick-off attempt. But Gonzalez was left stranded on the bases when Hayes struck out two of the next three Hawk batters and a grounder for three outs.
“Their pitcher did a solid job,” said Isbell of Hayes, who fanned eight Hawk batters. “He had solid stuff and he kept our guys off the bases enough.”
Casa Roble (20-6) jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first. A Liberty Ranch infield fielding error and singles from Isaiah Terrazas and Matt McAuliffe led to the Rams’ runs.
In the bottom of the second, Curtis Linarez doubled to left field for the Rams. He made it 3-0 when Terrazas singled to center field.
“We knew coming in that their top of the line-up was the strong part of their line-up,” Isbell said. “They were the ones that got the job done.”
Gonzalez reached base for a second time on a Casa Roble infield throwing error in the top of the third. But once again, the Hawks’ line-up was unable to generate any type of offense. Liberty Ranch could only muster three hits in the game.
Liberty Ranch scored its only run in the top of the fourth. Louis Manning reached first base on a third strike/passed ball. He moved to second on a passed ball, went to third on a grounder and scored on Josh Seiler’s single to right-center field.
Casa Roble upped its lead to 4-1 in the bottom of the fifth when Linarez walked and eventually scored when Josh Miller reached first base on another Liberty Ranch error.
Gonzalez reached first base in the top of the sixth on a Casa Roble infield throwing error. Shane Popoff followed with a single to left field. But Gonzalez was picked off at second, and the Rams used a double play for the final two outs of the inning.
Isbell announced that he was stepping down after four seasons to the team at the end of their post-game discussion in right field. He cited wanting to spend time with his family, in particular his 2-month old daughter. An off-campus coach, Isbell works for the parks and recreation department for the City of Galt.
“The only reason I’m stepping away is I have a little girl at home,” Isbell said. “I’m out there running conditioning, two to three days a week starting in December and running through January. From February until we finished, it’s five days a week, not getting home until 7 (p.m.), going to work early.”
During his four seasons, Isbell led Liberty Ranch to three Sierra Valley Conference titles that included this year’s. The Hawks have made the playoffs each season. On Tuesday, Liberty Ranch beat West Campus of Sacramento 3-2 in the first round of the playoffs, which was the Hawks’ first-ever playoff win since Galt’s second high school opened its doors in 2009.
Liberty Ranch baseball, prior to Isbell taking over, went through three coaches from 2011 to 2015, which during that time posted losing records.
Isbell thinks that the next Hawk baseball coach must be ready to elevate players to the next level that includes battling for the SVC title and deeper playoff run.
“The foundation has been set and rolling in the right direction,” Isbell said. “Whoever the next guy that comes in here I hope he keeps it rolling in the same direction. It just means that the kids come out with the dedication, understand what’s been done here before and have to repeat that process.”
Contact Mike Bush at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @MBushLodiSports.