Clay Gartner's two-strike fastball zipped over the outside corner, and Bullard High's Ryan Cox, just knowing he was toast, began stepping out of the right-handed batter's box and toward the Knights' dugout to end the first inning late Wednesday afternoon.
"It was a strike, I should have swung," Cox said.
Plate umpire Robert Ramirez Jr. disagreed, calling it a ball.
Grateful, the 6-foot, 270-pound Cox headed back into the box, dug in and drove Gartner's next pitch well over the left-field wall for a three-run homer that proved large in Bullard's 7-6 win over Clovis East in the first round of the Central Section Division I playoffs.
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"I was fortunate," Cox said. "I got another pitch and drove it out of there."
Cox was smiling afterward.
Gartner was not: "The inning was over."
No, it wasn't. And Cox wasn't finished, either.
He hit a solo home run in his next at-bat -- equaling the two big flies he had in 75 at-bats coming in -- and LaBronze Sanderson would drive in what proved to be the winning run in the sixth as the eighth-seeded Knights (20-10) advanced to Friday's quarterfinal against, who else?
Bullard is 0-4 against the top-seeded Bears of the Tri-River Athletic Conference, and has won 12 straight since its last loss to them -- 8-3 in the Fresno Easter Classic on March 7.
Odds are against one beating a good team five times, right?
"I'd like to think so," Knights coach Chad Thornhill said.
"We've come a long way since the beginning of the year. We're seeing chemistry at the exact right time. If you don't have it, you might as well mail it in."
Bullard will face Buchanan sophomore right-hander Seth Moranda (10-1, 0.82 ERA) and a 24-4-1 team that won the TRAC at 13-2 and is fourth-ranked in the state by Cal-Hi Sports. The Knights will counter with senior Jacob Martinez (4-2, 2.53)
"There's not going to be any secrets," Thornhill said.
"It's going to be a gut check again, a war for seven innings."
Clovis East (15-17) placed fifth in the TRAC at 4-11. But the ninth-seeded Timberwolves had the Knights sweating in the end, reducing the deficit to 7-5 on William Rosado's RBI single and placing runners on first and third with no outs.
But Bullard second baseman Chewy Telesco -- closing a big day that also saw him score three runs as a leadoff hitter -- turned a double play, and closer Blake Dunn recorded a strikeout to end it.
"It was a little tough in the end," said Dunn, who singled in the four-run first. "We're a different team. We should be ready for Buchanan this time."
Aaron Graef, a junior left-hander, gave up two hits and struck out five in five innings, and coasted behind seventh-seeded Central's 11-hit attack as the Grizzlies defeated Bakersfield 12-3.
Jordan Brink, a sophomore shortstop who teams with freshman second baseman Anders Nelson up the middle, tripled, singled twice, drove in two runs and scored twice, and junior Will Amador hit a two-run homer as Central (17-13) advanced to a quarterfinal game at second-seeded Clovis West on Friday.
The second-seeded Golden Eagles (22-7) swept three games from the Grizzlies in the TRAC.
Sixth-seeded Liberty-Bakersfield (21-10) earned a quarterfinal date at No. 3 Clovis by defeating No. 11 Madera 4-1.