Bruins bow out
SACRAMENTO – The best baseball season in Bear River school history came to an abrupt end Saturday in the first round of Sac-Joaquin Section Division III play, as a Bruin three-run, seventh-inning rally wasn’t enough to catch East Union (Manteca) in a 6-5 defeat at Dan McAuliffe Memorial Park in Sacramento.
And as they close the door on a year that saw the first league championship in the program’s history, the Bruins say goodbye to a group of seniors that helped put Bear River baseball on the map.
“It’s tough. It’s really tough. This is the first group to ever win a league championship. This being the last time I cut ’em loose, it’s difficult,” said Bruin head coach Mike Viola. “But the fact that we lost by striking out 14 times, that kind of takes a lot of the emotion out of it.
“Fourteen strikeouts. We lose Ð plain and simple.”
Though the fastball from Lancer left-hander Ben Fleckenstein was popping the catcher’s mitt throughout the afternoon, it was the 5-foot, 10-inch senior’s placement and off-speed pitches that had the Bruins off balance and coming up empty at the plate.
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Fleckenstein scattered five hits over six innings of work, while walking four and allowing two earned runs – before being relieved by right-hander Justin Friend in the seventh.
The Bruins took a 2-1 lead in the second, thanks to error-plagued play from the Lancers. Bear River senior Eric Tomczak singled and later scored on a pair of miscues, as did sophomore Ryan Giacomini, in an inning that featured four East Union errors.
The Lancers (20-6), though, led from the third inning on, taking a 3-2 lead and then extending it to 6-2 in the fourth, before Bear River’s seventh-inning strike fell short. The Bruins brought the potential game-winning run to the plate, with the possible game-tying at second, with two outs.
Sophomore Matt Hilton doubled to left field to lead off the final frame, followed by a Denny Wibbenhorst walk, bringing Bear River’s biggest bats in the lineup to the plate.
“We’ve got runners on first and second,” Viola said, “with our three, four and five guys coming up Ð and we struck out.”
After Wibbenhorst walked, Friend took the hill and fanned Bruin seniors Myles Anderson and Britton Barber, before Tomczak kept drew a two-out, full-count walk to load the bases. Giacomini singled to right scoring Hilton and Wibbenhorst and Tomczak took third. The Bruins cut the lead to one when Tomczak scored on Giacomini’s successful steal attempt at second. But Friend found the outside corner to catch Bear River senior Andy Adams looking on a called third strike to end the threat, the game and the best season to date in Bruin history.
“You know, there’s no quit in them,” Viola said. “Again, we somehow got it to where we want be. With the guys we had coming up, I thought we’ be OK, but it didn’t work out.”
Anderson picked up the loss on the mound, after allowing six runs — four earned – walking four and striking out five in 3 2/3 innings.
Bear River closed the season with a 16-7 record, including a 10-2 mark to share the PVL crown with West Campus. This marked the second straight playoff appearance – and second in school history – for Viola and his Bruins.
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