ATWATER — Many of the Atwater players were toddlers when the Falcons last won their own Easter tournament.
The Falcons ended a 14-year drought with an emphatic 7-1 win over Los Banos in the championship game of 55th annual Fran Oneto/Atwater-Winton Lions Easter Tournament.
“This means a lot,” said Atwater senior Ryan Sanchez, who pitched the first five innings for the win and was named the Most Outstanding Pitcher of the Tournament. “Hopefully this can boost our confidence for league because we know we can do it as a team.”
Atwater (15-5) took control of the game early, jumping on Los Banos freshman starter Steven Demanski for four runs in the bottom of the first inning.
Derek Molina, who was named MVP of the tournament, led off the inning with a triple to right field and scored on a wild pitch. A walk to Omar Sanchez, a double by Victor Tiscareno and a walk to Ryan Sanchez loaded the bases for the Falcons.
Wyatt Pimentel was then hit by a pitch to force in the second run. Atwater tacked on two more runs with RBI singles by JoJo Ochoa and Quinn Heckman.
“You can’t place blame on anybody,” said Los Banos coach Pat Fuentes, whose team dropped to 11-8. “He’s a freshman and we kind of threw him under the lights. He’s been with us all year but that’s kind of a tough spot.”
Ryan Sanchez was dealing early for the Falcons, retiring the first nine batters.
A couple errors and a hit batter gave the Tigers life in the top of the fourth inning. However, Corbin Lilledall was picked off third base by Ryan Sanchez for the first out. The base-running mistake stung even more when Michael Severino hit an RBI single later in the inning.
“I’ve got to take part of blame because I had other things on my mind and I’m not telling him to watch his lead,” Fuentes said. “At the same time we’re 90 feet away. It’s not like we’re going to steal home. I’d rather it happen here than in league and it cost a playoff spot.”
An asthma attack took Sanchez out of the game after five innings. The Atwater ace said the attack came on after he got back to the dugout after pitching the fourth.
“Even though I couldn’t breath I still wanted to go out and finish the fifth inning,” Sanchez said. “It was like breathing through a straw.”
Derek Molina came on to pitch two scoreless innings to close out the win. Atwater only gave up three runs in its four tournament games.
The Falcons offense put the game away with an RBI double by Omar Sanchez and run-scoring singles by Ryan Sanchez and Ochoa in the fourth inning.
After ending its tournament drought the Falcons can now focus on ending a 13-year playoff drought. Atwater has a one game lead over Pitman for the third and final Central California Conference playoff spot. The Falcons can clinch its first playoff berth since 2001 with a win at home against Pitman on Wednesday.
“Hopefully this is the start of something for next week,” said Atwater coach Jarrod Pimentel. “It will be really nice if we can go into our game against Pitman on Wednesday with our bats hot.”
Sun-Star staff writer Shawn Jansen can be reached at (209) 385-2462 or firstname.lastname@example.org.