Baseball: Balers offense takes off

Left to right, Marcus Sabatte, Craig Slibsager and Jacob Tonascia greet Jose Guzman at home after an early home run.

San Benito head coach Billy Aviles always thought his team was going to hit well in the 2012 season, but he couldn’t have expected the end to the third week of Tri-County Athletic League play.

After struggling for three runs – all coming in the game’s final inning – to escape with a 3-2 win over North Salinas on Tuesday, the Baler offense erupted for a combined 29 runs in two wins over Alvarez on Thursday and Friday.

With the victories, San Benito hasn’t lost since starting the season 0-2, and is 8-2 overall.

The offensive explosion started early for the Balers on Thursday.

Starting with a pair of lead-off walks, San Benito rallied for five runs before recording an out. Tonascia started the scoring with a thundering double off the centerfield wall. Josh George and Ryan Jacob, who both walked to lead off the game, scored with ease for the Balers.

Third baseman Craig Slibsager followed with a single – Tonascia held at third – to leave two runners on for designated hitter Jose Guzman. After fouling off a ball, Guzman, aided by a hard-blowing wind, lifted a ball over the left-field wall.

Five batters into the game, and the Balers led 5-0.

On the mound, Rob Soto threw strikes and avoided letting batters onto the bases, as San Benito continued to add to its lead.

“It helped me relax more because we were not fighting for runs like Tuesday against North Salinas,” Soto said. “It gives me a lot more confidence and helps us keep the game going and end it faster.”

Thanks to a lead-off error and walk, San Benito tacked on two more runs in the second inning. Tonascia drove in one of his five RBIs on a sacrifice fly. And Slibsager recorded his second hit and only RBI with a single.

Tonascia would add two more runs – for five total – in the third inning with his second double of the game. In total, all nine batter reached base in the game.

Guzman finished 3-for-3 with a home run, double and single to record three RBIs. Tonascia finished 2-for-3 with two doubles and five RBIs.

“It’s big because we only put up three runs in seven innings against North Salinas,” Tonascia said. “To come out with 13 (runs), that’s really big for us. I took a lot of swings yesterday, I’m getting ready for Palma and Salinas. I was letting the ball get deep and letting my hands take care of it. I wasn’t trying to do much with it. I was just trying to play the game and it worked out today.”

Tonascia, who joined the team a few weeks late because of basketball, is just starting to get comfortable on the field, he said.

“I’m getting pretty close to there,” he said. “A few more at-bats and I’ll be pretty close. Catching, I’m still kind of shaky, but hitting is pretty close.”

As a team, the Balers are clicking at the plate, manager Billy Aviles said.

“We really are executing offensively,” Aviles said.

That continued to show Friday, in San Benito’s largest victory of the year. Once again jumping on Alvarez in the first inning, San Benito ran away with a 16-3 victory.

The combined 29 runs gives the Balers a league-leading 70 in 10 games this year.

“The biggest thing is executing,” Aviles said. “The kids are really starting to take off. It’s a ton of confidence for them, especially heading into games against Salinas and Palma. That’s the heart of our schedule, and we are hitting the ball really well.”

In Friday’s win over Alvarez, San Benito hit six doubles, as Guzman led the way going 4-for-4. Marcus Sabatte, Tonascia and Michael Breen each added two hits for the Balers.

George added three hits in the win.

San Benito struck for three runs in the first inning, but Alvarez tied the game up on a 3-run home run off the bat of Kameron Brown.

But San Benito responded with six runs in the second and five in the third.

And for the second game in a row, the Balers didn’t commit an error.

“Right now, we are playing really good baseball,” he said. “We are starting to click.”

The Balers travel to Salinas at 4 p.m. Tuesday in a battle for first place in the TCAL.

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