The Paso Robles High baseball team’s small-ball approach continues to pay major dividends for the PAC 7 champions, while Yucaipa’s big hits were dwarfed by its bigger mistakes.
The Bearcats got four hits from their bottom two batters, an extended performance from closer Jonathan Baldwin, and overcame three doubles and a home run from the visiting Thunderbirds to win a back-and-forth CIF-Southern Section Division 2 first-round game 10-7 on Thursday.
After falling behind 3-0, Paso Robles scored nine runs combined in the fourth and fifth innings with only four balls leaving the infield. The Bearcats bunted three times, drew four walks, stole two bases and took advantage of five Yucaipa passed balls.
“If we can do things like that, it kind of just gets our offense going,” Bearcats coach Derek Stroud said of the bunt single by Taylor Holden that sparked the rally. “It puts some pressure on them on the basepaths, and we had some fortunate hits. That’s the kind of style of ball we have to play.”
Baldwin followed Holden with a single to center, and Christian Erickson’s base knock to left scored Holden to put the Bearcats on the board. Baldwin and Erickson moved up on a passed ball, and when another pitch went through the legs of catcher Angelo Romeo, Baldwin raced home to pull Paso Robles within one.
Erickson wasn’t far behind, either, as the freshman came all the way from second base to score on the same play and tie the score.
“My instincts took over and I just went,” said Erickson, who slid under the tag of pitcher Austin Amante. “I didn’t care where it was — I was going.”
The Bearcats took the lead later in the inning, when No. 9 hitter Colin Lux bunted down the first-base line to score pinch runner Steven Deaville.
The Thunderbirds tied it in the top of the fifth, but Paso Robles continued to capitalize on their mistakes in the bottom of the frame to take the lead for good.
Kai Bedell drew a bases-loaded walk, Erickson reached on a catcher’s interference and scored again on a passed ball, and Yucaipa replacement catcher Erik Sandoval forgot to tag pinch runner Mark Armstrong on a non-force play at the plate to make the score 7-4.
Holden, Lux and Tyler Ridino each finished 2 for 3, Ben Mecham hit a two-run single to end the fifth, and eight Bearcats scored at least a run.
The conclusion was a far cry from the way things started, as Yucaipa’s Joseph Chapman opened the scoring by launching a 2-1 fastball over the left-field fence for a two-run homer in the first inning.
“They’ve got three or four hitters that can do some damage, and the one guy did,” Stroud said. “Those are good hitters, and that’s going to happen.”
The Thunderbirds (18-8), second-place finishers in the Citrus Belt and winners of Tuesday’s wild card against Etwinda, tacked on another in the third off starter Paul Andersen and were threatening again in the fourth when Stroud turned to Baldwin.
The right-handed junior got a ground out and was helped by a leaping catch at second by Holden to get out of the jam.
The Bearcats’ offense awoke soon after.
“We came out pretty energetic, but then things started to go a little south,” Baldwin said. “We just had to fight through it. We kept going and started to build on things. It picked up eventually.”
Baldwin normally pitches only the sixth or seventh inning, but with the season in the balance, Stroud said he couldn’t afford to wait that long to get his big right hander on the mound.
“We could lose a game in the fourth inning, and I wasn’t going to be willing to sit there and hold him out,” said Stroud, whose team had a two-week layoff following its regular- season finale May 9. “If we have to put somebody in later, I’ll do it. We needed to keep them as close as possible, so we needed him there.”
Yucaipa chipped away with two runs in the sixth, but on a day when star shortstop Bailey Gaither was 0 for 4, the Bearcats still had plenty of offense.
Holden singled again in the sixth, stealing second and advancing to third when the throw by Ryan Calbreath — the Thunderbirds’ third catcher of the game — sailed into the outfield. He came around to score on a Baldwin ground out.
Paso Robles (20-6-2) advances to face the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, Great Oak, on Tuesday. The location will be determined by coin flip, but the Bearcats are eager for the challenge regardless.
“Bring ’em on,” Baldwin said. “They’re just another team, and it’s just another game. We’re ready.”