• Madera still standing in coach’s absence
• Alec Gamboa and Coyotes get best of Colton Eastman and Central
• Nick Zamora’s sixth HR is dramatic blast in D-I opener
Never miss a local story.
MADERA — Madera High baseball coach Andy Underwood missed the Coyotes’ first-round Central Section playoff game Wednesday to be with his expectant wife, Lauren, at Clovis Community Medical Center.
Their first child, a boy, would be well fit with the name Nick, right? Or Alec, maybe?
Those options were promoted after Nick Zamora blasted a three-run homer off Central star Colton Eastman in the sixth inning and Gamboa pitched a two-hitter with 16 strikeouts in a 3-0 Division I win.
Eastman, expected to go somewhere within the top 10 rounds in next month’s major league amateur draft and throwing a fastball consistently at 90-92 mph against fifth-seeded Madera (24-6), had a five-hitter with 10 strikeouts when Zamora drove a first-pitch curveball well over the left-center field fence and toward the school’s football stadium.
It was preceded by Tristen Alvarez and Fernando Galindo singles.
“I was just thinking, ‘Put the ball hard in play and give the team the lead,’ ” said Zamora, a husky junior designated hitter with six home runs. “I didn’t expect the curve, but I trusted my hands.”
When the ball cleared the wall, Zamora let out a yelp and pointed to Central’s first-base dugout.
“It gets emotional,” he said. “Their pitcher (Eastman) had been yelling at our dugout. It’s baseball; it can’t get any better than that.”
Zamora, who wears No. 1 because the team’s “biggest jersey came with the smallest number,” can expect to have his diet supplemented soon.
“I’ll probably buy him a burger this week,” said Gamboa, who confirmed he will remain true in his commitment to Fresno State, regardless of the draft. “I told the team before the game, ‘Give me one run and I’m going to win it it for you.’ And Nick gave me three. As soon as that ball went over the fence, I said, ‘We’ve got this.’ Colton threw an amazing game, but Nick came through in the clutch.”
The same could be said for fourth-seeded Tulare Western, which scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh to rally past No. 13 Memorial.
And the 25-7 co-East Yosemite League champion will remain home Friday to play Madera at 4:30 p.m. in the quarterfinals. Both are up to D-I after playing D-II last season — Tulare Western winning it all.
“Those guys are good,” Central coach Jeff Prieto said of Madera, the County/Metro Athletic Conference co-champion with Edison. “They’ll play catch. They’re good up the middle. Their catcher can throw and they can pitch, especially when (Gamboa’s) on the mound.”
Eastman, meanwhile, closed his prep career by going 6-3 with a 0.88 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 792/3 innings. The Cal State Fullerton signee gave up only 48 hits.
Problem was, the Grizzlies (12-17) scored one or no runs in 14 games.
“Our team ERA was under 1.5 and our defense was lights out,” said Prieto, a former Clovis East and Sunnyside coach and UNLV assistant. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Our pitching and defense was so good, but every time I looked at the scoreboard, we had a bunch of zeroes.”
The offensive woes would catch up with Eastman — especially Wednesday, said Prieto: “It’s a long, draining season when every pitch is life or death; it wears on you. It was always nothing-nothing (score) deep into the game, so every single pitch took 100% effort. Unfortunately, that was always the story for him.”