Don’t let the average, uninterested stranger underestimate the
importance of Wednesday’s mega-Tri-County Athletic League baseball
showdown with Hollister and Live Oak on the Balers’ diamond.
Don’t let the average, uninterested stranger underestimate the importance of Wednesday’s mega-Tri-County Athletic League baseball showdown with Hollister and Live Oak on the Balers’ diamond.

With both teams sharing first sporting an 8-2 record with five games left, this one ranks up with last year’s late-season confrontation with North County at home, a game which the Balers were defeated.

Baler head coach Neal Andrade, whose club is 17-5 overall, doesn’t feel that this game means winner-take-all.

“This is a big game, don’t get me wrong,” said Andrade. “But, even if we win, we don’t have anything wrapped up. There are a lot of teams left on the schedule who can bite you. And if we lose, we still have a shot for the same reason. This is what the game is all about.”

The Balers and Acorns (14-8 overall) have met twice this season with each team winning on the road. On March 12, the game eluded the Balers to the tune of 10-1 Acorns, who had ace Ryan Muller on the mound to boot. Two days later, Nathan Rowe pitched a 5-1 dandy in Morgan Hill.

While Muller is a definite go on Wednesday, Andrade hasn’t made up his mind whom he will send out to the mound when the game commences at 4 p.m. PST. Muller has been nearly unhittable this season, with an 8-1 overall record and a 5-0 record in T-CAL play. He has a miniscule 0.64 ERA in league mound work with 42 strikeouts. Muller’s no stiff at the plate, he’s second in the league in batting behind the Balers Eric Diaz Jr. with a .500 average.

“We need to play good defense behind Ryan,” said Acorns coach Marc Cummins. “If we do, he’ll keep us in the game.”

For the Balers, Rowe is 4-1 in league with an ERA of 3.77, while Diaz, who has more big-game experience this season, is 2-1 with a 2.01 ERA. Andrade has debated long and hard between starting Diaz or Rowe.

“They’ve both been pitching well lately,” said Andrade. “Rowe really wants the ball and would get upset if I don’t give it to him. I like that in a player. And we’re stronger defensively with Nathan on the mound and with Eric at second.”

“We both want to pitch,” said Diaz. “It’s my to turn to start, but I just want to win.”

Andrade and the Balers welcome the return of Nick Ramos at shortstop. Ramos has missed “11 or 12 games”, according to Andrade. The Balers lost two of the games Ramos missed, though he played about half of the loss at Salinas.

“Nick’s not 100 per cent yet,” said Andrade. “We can’t have him sit this one out.”

Should Rowe start, Diaz would play short and Ramos second. If Diaz starts, Ramos would be at short with Rowe at second base.

The key for the Balers will be to tack a run or two up on the board early against Muller. Leadoff hitter Josh Badillo is hitting .400 in league and has been on base a lot of late, which usually means the Balers are scoring some runs. Rowe is batting .333, while junior catcher Anthony Synegal is at .382 in league games.

“Anthony has been a pleasant surprise,” said Andrade. “His hitting has tailed off of late, but it will pick up. He has been doing an outstanding job behind the plate of setting himself up and blocking balls. He’s caught every inning for us.”

The Acorns can counter with some boys who can swing it, though more for average than power. Trevor Molyneaux is batting .400, Sean Nourie is at .380, while feisty Andrew Cummins (.375) and Dave Newton (.333) will have the Balers’ attention, as well.

Diaz is having a season to remember at the plate. He’s hitting .580 with five doubles and 13 RBI, second in the league in that category.

“This is a big game,” said Diaz. “It is the same purpose as last year’s North County game where the winner would have the better shot at the league title. We had a good practice Monday. The guys are fired up about it. We’ve seen Muller once and we know what he has. We know what’s coming.”

Note: The Balers host Gilroy at 4 p.m. Saturday.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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