The Minarets Mustangs’ baseball season came to an end May 13, with a disappointing 2-1 loss to the Sierra High Golden Bears of Hanford in the opening round of the D-V section extra innings.
The Mustangs came into the game with a respectable 13-11 record, considering the team lost all but two starters from last season’s Sectional Championship team - Riley Hillerman and utility player, Justin McLeod.
The Mustangs came into the first round facing the No. 3 seed after receiving the No. 15 seed. The two teams have a short history, being two of the newest schools in the Central Valley. The Golden Bears beat the Mustangs 7-1 two years ago for the sectional title. The bears were moved to D-V following their title as were the Mustangs following their 2014 title.
Minarets had their ace, Riley Hillerman, on the mound. The junior has been the rock for the Mustangs and has perfected the art of pitching. Hillerman will no doubt play the game at the next level, as was evident in the Mustangs’ first round game.
The Mustangs opened the first with a single by Hayden Alford who advanced to 2nd on Andrews Carrick’s single. Two batters later, Alford scored on a fielder’s choice to put the Mustangs up 1-0.
Hillerman took the lead to the mound and stymied the Golden Bears for 7 innings. The lead would hold as Hillerman pitched to perfection moving the ball all over the plate, keeping hitters off balance throughout the game.
The Mustangs defense was at it’s best. Inning after inning, the Minarets defense made “big” plays in the infield and outfield. Sophomore Drew Robertson, junior Christian Low, and freshman Jacob Cullen stole hit after hit from the Golden Bears.
With two outs in the third inning and a runner on third, the Golden Bears hit one of those routine balls that you field in practice over and over, and it found it’s way under a mitt allowing the tying run to score, unearned.
Unfazed, Hillerman continued his stellar performance on the mound, and his defense was just as sound. The Mustangs took the game into extra innings after battling Hanford for seven, tied 1-1.
The Mustangs had their opportunities. In the eighth Minarets loaded the bases with no outs for Carrick to lay down the suicide squeeze bunt.
The Bears had brought in their left handed “ace” in the fifth inning, and the Mustangs struggled putting the bat on the ball. Coach Don Watkins decided to let his batters swing away, and the Mustangs left the bases loaded failing to capitalize on a golden opportunity.
Going into the bottom of the ninth Alford walked the lead-off batter. The next batter singled. With runners at fir4st and second, the Golden Bears next batter was hit by a pitch loading the bases with no outs. After going full on the count, fouling off two balls, the Golden Bears moved on to the next round drawing a walk to score the winning run and ending the Mustangs’ season.
As disappointing as the loss was, the Mustangs turned-in possibly their best performance of the year. Hillerman pitched seven innings without giving up an earned run.
The Mustangs ended the season in third place in the Western Sequoia standings, two games behind Fowler and Caruthers, which finished the season as co-champions.
Sierra Pacific went on and defeated Caruthers 7-4 in the second round of the playoffs to move on to the semifinals.
Things will have a different look on the Mustangs field next season, as Coach Watkins will not be returning, and the team is expected to have a new coaching staff.
The Mustangs should fair well next season, as they lose only McLeod. Although, he will be hard to replace - the senior lead the team in almost all offensive categories - youth is on their side as the team started three sophomores and one freshman.