It took seven games, but the San Benito High baseball team finally earned its first win of the season. The Haybalers did it in impressive fashion, beating Palma 11-4 on Wednesday.
“It’s nice to get the first win under our belts,” said Billy Aviles, who is in his 11th season as the San Benito coach. “We’ll take it and move onto Friday.”
They certainly will. Playing the toughest early-season schedule in all of the Central Coast Section, the Balers lost their first six games by a combined margin of 59-12. But those defeats came at the hands of West Catholic League powerhouse programs Valley Christian (twice), Mitty (twice), St. Francis and Bellarmine. That’s a who’s who of CCS baseball royalty. San Benito entered the gauntlet on just a couple weeks of practice and not being at full strength because the football team’s season bled into theirs.
Even then, Aviles never lost confidence in his team, reasoning that it will improve with each passing week. Starter Jackson Pace earned the win against Palma by allowing four runs and six hits over five innings while striking out five. The right-hander was cruising until he ran into trouble in the fifth, when Palma scored all of its runs. Austin Salamida went the final two innings to close things out.
It was evident early on that the Chieftains were going to have issues against the San Benito lineup. In the bottom of the first, the Balers scored five runs—three on a home run from Ryan Io—and had 10 players come to the plate. They forced the Palma starter to throw 51—yes, 51—pitches in the first inning alone.
San Benito totaled eight hits, drew seven walks and reached base four additional times after being hit by a pitch. In addition to his exploits on the mound, Salamida hit a three-run homer in the second inning to put San Benito up 8-0. Both Io and Salamida’s home runs were in the same vicinity of left-center field, a byproduct of the strong wind that made routine fly balls and pop-ups a chore for players to catch.
Breyon Chavez, the sophomore who bats No. 2 in the lineup, reached base in four of his five plate appearances with two singles, a double and walk. Matt Pena, the No. 3 hitter, had two hits, including a two-run double in the first. Michael McShane, playing his first game coming off the finish of the football season, batted ninth and walked twice and hit a single.
The latter came with one out in the bottom of the sixth with McShane working himself out of an 0-2 count. In the top of the frame, Adrian Ruiz, a late-game replacement in center field, made a textbook play off a Palma single and threw an absolute BB to home plate to hold the baserunners at bay, preventing any of them from scoring.
Salamida then got the next batter to hit into a fielder’s choice, squashing any hopes of a Palma comeback. It’s plays like Ruiz and at-bats like McShane’s that were mostly absent in the first couple of games. However, Aviles expects quality at-bats and top-notch defense to be more regular from this point forward.
Aviles said Io has been dynamic both on the mound, with the bat as well as being a team leader. When Io is not on the mound, he plays any of the three outfield positions.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked of him,” Aviles said. “He always has quality at bats and has done an outstanding job for us all the way around.”
With a changeup that Aviles describes as “filthy,” Io has delivered on the mound. He’s also got a potent fastball and curve, and has had the best outings from any pitcher on the team early in the season, Aviles said. Against Palma, Pace hit 90 mph on the gun in the first inning and was at his best in the third, when he retired the side on just five pitches. The USC-commit has all the tools to be downright dominant, even against some of the WCAL schools.
The Balers started three sophomores—Chavez, Pena and Jaden Mingus—which speaks to the youth of the team. However, San Benito showed on Thursday it is still a formidable squad. Aviles also expects the sophomores to keep on developing as the season goes on.
“Breyon might be the best defensive shortstop that’s come through here because he can really pick it,” Aviles said. “Pena probably makes the most offensive contact out of any sophomore I’ve ever had, and Mingus (second baseman) is a plus-defensive player who can hit a little bit as well.”
Io has started three games on the mound, going at least four innings in each. Even though the Balers took their lumps, Io said the players never lost confidence and the experience of playing top competition would prove to be beneficial in the long run.
“It was good for everybody to see what it was like playing these really good teams,” he said. “We got tossed around quite a bit, but at least we battled with it.”
Whether he’s on the mound or at the dish, Io looks to stay calm and poised. Pitching-wise, he has decent velocity which complements the tremendous movement he has on his pitches.
“My max that I’ve hit is 88 (mph) on the gun, but I love to work in my changeup and curve and throw batters off,” he said. “I like to use the movement on my pitches to my advantage, especially because I’m not throwing it in the low 90s.”
Io prides himself on being an effort player, or giving it 100 percent in both the games and practices.
“I want to leave it all out on the field,” he said. “If we all do our job as a collective, we should be pretty good.”