Balers’ Houdini act leaves Salinas baffled

Tommy Hernandez recently earned a scholarship to play at Peru State in Nebraska. 

Over the years, the San Benito High baseball team has gained a sterling reputation for grinding out at-bats until the very end.
On Thursday, the Haybalers took that never-say-die attitude to another stratosphere. On the verge of suffering just its second league loss in its last 23 games, San Benito produced a comeback for the ages, scoring five runs with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning en route to a thrilling 6-5 win over visiting Salinas.
“That’s the great thing about baseball—you can’t sit on the clock,” Balers coach Billy Aviles said. “You can’t just run the clock out. A win like this definitely builds character.”
Of that, there is no doubt. San Benito, which improved to 8-1 overall and 5-0 in Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division play, entered the last half of the seventh down 5-1, having been limited to just four hits against Cowboys starter Ryan Jensen, who was having his way with the San Benito lineup.
However, Jensen was lifted for reliever Ethan Santos after Jensen had hit Josh Tonascia with a pitch before walking Garret Kelly. In came Santos, and on came the San Benito rally.
The next three batters—Zack Moeller, Junior Rodriguez and Andrew Sotelo—drew walks, with the last two bringing in runs to cut the Balers deficit to 5-3. Caleb Menez followed with a two-run single to make it 5-5, putting the potential game-winning run (Sotelo) at second base.
Drew Williams then hit a routine grounder to the Salinas second baseman, who bobbled the ball three times. After the second bobble, Sotelo took off for home and scored without a throw to complete the comeback.
The Balers, who were outhit 9-5, scored five times in the seventh via four walks, one hit-batsmen, one single and an error. While that isn’t exactly a recipe for success by any stretch of the imagination, the Balers will take it.
“It’s a great feeling to not play your best game and to still be able to get a W,” said Sotelo, who along with Menez had a team-best two RBI. “It’s exciting to be a part of a game like this. It’s not the best thing to start off slow like that, but with everyone behind each other in the dugout, you just keep battling to the end.”
Said Aviles: “Jensen threw a gem, but our kids kept hanging in there and our pitching was able to shut the door after the third inning.”
Indeed, Balers relievers Tommy Hernandez, Kyle Stevenson and Marcus Rueda combined for 4 1/3 innings of shutout relief after Salinas scored five times off of Balers starter Diego Fisher in the first three innings.
Hernandez, a senior right-hander, was particularly effective, going 2 2/3 innings. Stevenson followed with 1 1/3 innings, getting out of a tough jam in the top of the sixth.
The Cowboys had runners on second and third before Stevenson induced a groundout and flyout to escape unscathed. Rueda, who inherited a two-out, bases-loaded situation in the top of the seventh, followed with a similar Houdini-like act.
Rueda induced a popup on the first pitch he threw, setting up the Balers’ sensational comeback in the bottom half.
“I would say this is probably the biggest comeback in the seventh inning since I’ve been here,” said Aviles, who is in his fifth year as the San Benito coach. “The kids battled all day.”
And good things happen to teams that never give up.

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