Firebaugh High answered the early-morning alarm while Golden Valley was slow to awake, and the result was an Eagles’ runaway Saturday morning in the Central Section Division IV baseball championship game.
Senior right-hander Sal Alaniz pitched a three-hitter in a 6-0 win, with the Bulldogs falling a game short of the title for a second straight season.
“Sal worked so hard for this moment,” Firebaugh coach Alex Gutierrez said. “He came up big.”
Fourth-seeded Firebaugh (29-7) set the tone in the first when Jordan Martinez blasted a leadoff double over center fielder Josh Hernandez. Noey Garcia’s two-out single made it 1-0.
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Alaniz pitched out a few minor jams and his offense blew it open in the sixth. Tony Choporena and River Pacini, the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters, lined RBI hits to score three runs and make it 4-0 and the Eagles were on their way to adding a second championship in the sport after winning in D-V in 2013.
“This is why you work hard; we lost our (D-V) semifinal game by inches last year — we had a guy thrown out at the plate — and since that day, we went to work,” said Gutierrez, a 24-year-old second-year coach. “We had four freshman starters last year, and they’re sophomores now, and they can play.”
Second-seeded Golden Valley, which lost 3-1 to Kerman a year ago, admittedly was thrown off by the 9:30 a.m. first pitch — the contest starting as the first of four games on the final day of the two-day single-site championship gathering at Visalia’s Rawhide Ballpark.
Golden Valley coach Mike Gibson said the Bulldogs had planned to take batting practice at nearby Redwood High, but that would have meant leaving before 6 a.m. so he let his players sleep in.
“I understand what (the section is) trying to do, but they need to fix that somehow,” he said. “That really leaves you in a lurch.”
Alaniz played his part, too, in holding down the Bulldogs (23-9), striking out eight and walking one.
“That kid pitched a great game,” Gibson said. “I mean, gee whiz. It was the same kind of pitcher as last year, too. He had real good off-speed stuff and he knew when to use it. We work on that all the time, but when you’re out there and the bullets are flying, it’s a little bit different.”
Golden Valley had some chances, most notably in the second, when Austin Toerner led off with a single, stole second and Pierre Morales was hit by a pitch. Sergio Cuellar bunted the runners over, but Alaniz induced a popout from Chris Rodriguez and struck out Kevin Martinez.
Toerner struck out nine in six innings but allowed four runs on 10 hits. Hernandez gave up a two-run home run to Brian Lopez in the seventh.
“They could hit,” Gibson said. “That’s the most solid team we faced all year. Austin actually threw a great game, I thought, but they had some hitters.”
Garces’ Reece Males starred for the second straight game, tripling in two runs to give the fifth-seeded Rams the lead in what was eventually a six-run sixth in an 8-3 victory over No. 2 Ridgeview in the D-III final.
Males, who hit a go-ahead homer in the semifinals, took a close outside two-strike pitch from Aaron Charles ahead of his big hit. Before it was over, Garces (14-16) had sent 12 to the plate, with five hits, three walks and an error leading to the six runs that wiped out Ridgview’s 3-2 lead.
The Rams — beat up while going 5-10 in a Southwest Yosemite League that has four D-I teams another D-II club — won their seventh title, the last coming in 2012. The Wolf Pack (20-9-1) remain without a baseball championship.