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By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian
BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
At about 6 p.m. in Clovis, I turned to no one in particular in the press box at Buchanan's glorious baseball facility and said, "Heck, I might just take the day off Friday."
That was mostly tongue in cheeck — though after the trip I had to Fresno County today, complete with mucho construction and a stop to change a bald tire, I could use the day — but it also appeared I wouldn't have much to do outside of the office. Only three Kern County baseball teams were alive:
(1) Stockdale, which had just balked in a run and trailed state No. 11 Buchanan 2-0 headed to the sixth inning of the Division I semifinals.
(2) Bakersfield Christian, which was down 3-1 to Fowler in the fifth inning and struggling to score runs in the Division IV semifinals.
(3) Tehachapi, the only home team of the group. But the Warriors trailed Madera South 4-1 in the sixth inning, and it appeared they also had run out of playoff gas in the Division III bracket.
In the next hour, here's what transpired: Stockdale rallied for two unearned runs in the top of the sixth against a normally solid Buchanan defense — and then nearly got a go-ahead grand slam from Drew Allen, but his fly ball died in the wind on the left-field warning track.
Then, as Stockdale starting pitcher Max Carter was working out of his own bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the sixth, Tehachapi started rallying in a big way. Michael Llamas' towering three-run home run tied the game, 4-4. A few batters later, Tehachapi had loaded the bases for No. 9 hitter Steven Nielsen, who lined a single to center put the Warriors ahead. They eventually sent 12 batters to the plate and scored eight runs in the inning and stormed past Madera South, 9-5.
Now the ninth-seeded Warriors (they were at home because No. 13 Madera South had also pulled off a couple of road wins) travel to Visalia to take on No. 2 seed Golden West for the Division III title, with freshman ace Sagun Gainey ready to go.
As that finish was unfolding, Stockdale and Buchanan marched into extra innings, where the Mustangs took the lead on singles by Zach Tanner and Junior Felix and Kevin Lee's sacrifice fly to make it 3-2. Carter got Buchanan 1-2-3 in the bottom of the eighth, and the Mustangs were suddenly in the Division I championship Friday. They also got coach Dan Lemon, who has said he is retiring from coaching after this season, one more game with a shot at his third section title.
"It's really special," he said. "This is a special group of kids. They're the toughest team I've coached in 30 years."
Bakersfield Christian didn't join the Kern County comeback parade, falling 3-1 to Fowler, but there's no way I've got the day off Friday. I'll be headed back north to see Stockdale take on No. 2 seed Clovis North.
Let's just hope my tires make it through the trip this time.