Mustangs drop league opener

Minarets pitcher Hunter Thompson gave up five runs in the Mustangs’ 9-3 loss to Hoover High last week.
Minarets pitcher Hunter Thompson gave up five runs in the Mustangs’ 9-3 loss to Hoover High last week. Special to Sierra Star

The Minarets Mustangs (8-4, 0-1 West Sequoia League), lost two games last week, 9-3 to the Hoover Patriots (6-7), and 5-1 to the Fowler Redcats (6-3, 1-0 NSL).

The Mustangs are in middle of a tough stretch in their schedule, playing 11 of 12 games on the road. After starting the season on fire with a 7-1 record, things have cooled off as Minarets has dropped back-to-back games for the first time this season.

Against the Patriots on March 28, Minarets jumped out to a 2-0 lead behind the pitching of Hunter Thompson. That score held until a big fifth inning for Hoover. The Patriots, with the help of a Mustang lapse on defense, scored eight unanswered runs, five charged to Thompson, but aided by three Mustangs errors.

Tyler Painter came in to relieve and was greeted with yet another single, followed by an error, a dropped third strike, and a wild pitch that scored another run. Hoover was up 7-2, and they would go on to add two more runs and cruise to the 9-3 win.

The Mustangs opened WSL play against Fowler March 31, in what many thoughy would be a showdown of league powers.

The Mustangs had their “lefty ace” Aaron Hall (3-1) on the mound. Going into the game, he was leading the team with 38 strikeouts in 23 innings, with a 2.1 ERA.

He pitched the whole game, giving up just two earned runs, but again the Mustangs defense committed errors which helped the Redcats win the league opener.

The Redcats scored one run in the first and second inning, and two runs in the fourth for a 4-0 lead with the help of three Mustang errors.

The Mustangs would break through in the fifth with a Chris Bowes leadoff single, a walk by Connor Reardon and an EG Walden single to drive in the Minarets only run of the game. Fowler would go on to add a run for the final 5-1 score.

Despite some questionable defense behind Hall, the Mustangs did record some defensive highlights - a 5-4-3 double play to end the sixth and an error saving play by Christian Conti.

“I’m proud of the way we played today,” Head Coach Jesse Darrah said. “We played with effort and intensity, but we just didn’t get enough hits to win. We made three errors that hurt us and we weren’t able to recover. If we can clean some things up, this team can still accomplish everything it has set out to do this season.”

The Mustangs have dropped three games (Fresno High, Hoover, Fowler) to three fundamentally sound teams, but errors have cost the Mustangs, as the team averages four a game. The Mustangs play six consecutive games on the road with an April 7 game at Parlier (6-5-1), before they take part in the 61st Selma Greater Kiwanis Tournament April 10-12.

The tournament consists of 14 teams including, Minarets, Yosemite, Chavez, Firebaugh, Sierra Pacific, Arvin, Coalinga, Immanuel, Sequoia, McLane, Lindsay, Shafter, Riverdale, and Selma. The Mustangs will play a double header on April 10, with a 9:30 a.m. start against Coalinga (4-10) and a second game scheduled at noon against Firebaugh (9-4).

Minarets will play Arvin (12-3) on April 11, followed by a showdown against Serra Pacific (10-3) the next day. It was the Golden Bears that beat the Mustangs in Sectional play, 2-1 in extra inning to end the 2015 season.

The Mustangs will have to rely on a seldom-used rotation other than Hall, Thompson, and closer Tyler Painter with new pitching rules for the tournament. The Mustangs have plenty of arms in the bullpen, but little experience on the mound. With some sound defense the Mustangs could turn some heads as they close out a tough road schedule.