Pat Fuentes suspected a letdown was coming.
With wins over regional powers El Capitan, Pitman, Central Catholic and Manteca to open the season, his Los Banos baseball team was feeling good entering the week. The Tigers coach was concerned it was a little too good after a lethargic week of practice.
Fuentes’ fears were confirmed on Friday evening as LB got away from many of the things it had done so well to start the season, including its approach at the dish. Atwater sophomore pitcher Jakob Faulk took full advantage, scattering six hits over 5 1/3 innings in the best start of his young career.
But for all that the Tigers did wrong on Friday, they never stopped grinding. The approach paid off as they manufactured a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth inning with just one ball put in play. The rally proved the difference in a 3-2 victory over the Falcons at Memorial Ballpark.
“Today our focus just wasn’t what it’s been to start the season,” Fuentes said. “We kind of knew it was coming. We had a bad week of practice, and we pretty much played the way we practiced. We got away from our approach at the plate of going back up the middle. I don’t think any of our pitchers had their best stuff, but they managed to throw strikes when they needed to.
“We hope we’re a good team, and good teams find a way to win games like this. You’re not always going to bring your best to the ballpark, so I’m pleased that we gutted this one out.”
While the LB (5-0) offense wasn’t at its best, the Tigers kept themselves in the game with solid pitching and defense. Josh Gomes, Kyle McAndrew and Julian Arrechavala combined to allow just two runs on six hits.
The Falcons (0-5) twice took leads on Gomes as Faulk helped his own cause with an RBI double in the first and Christian Curiel (2 for 3) turned a leadoff single into a run on a wild pitch in the third.
Los Banos countered with Gomes scoring on a wild pitch in the second inning, but that was all the Tigers could muster in the first five innings against Faulk. The right-hander seemed to get better with men on base, holding LB 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position.
“I’m really proud of the performance today,” Atwater coach Jarrod Pimentel said. “We’ve kind of gone through all kinds of adversity this week, and a handful of guys really stepped up. Jakob pitched a heck of a game. I felt like he got stronger as the game went on.
“I’m really excited to see what he does this season.”
Tough as Faulk was, fatigue might have caught up with him in the decisive sixth inning.
Vincent Alvarez opened the inning with a double. Faulk answered with his sixth strikeout of the game, but a wild pitch let the runner move up to third. Trey Augustine drew a walk to put runners at the corners and then proceeded to steal second base. Augustine drew a throw and Alvarez broke for the plate. Both runners were safe tying the game at 2-2.
Faulk’s night was over after yielding a second walk and relief pitcher Kyle Yerrick loaded the bases with two outs by hitting McAndrews. Trent Mallonee (2 for 3) drew a walk to force in the go-ahead run, and Arrechavala closed the door with scoreless sixth and seventh innings.
“Our first four games our sticks had been really hot,” Mallonee said. “I think we didn’t take them as seriously as we should have and today we struggled. Our pitchers did a good job of keeping us in the game and we were able scratch out enough runs to win.”
The LB bats came back to life for its Western Athletic Conference opener against Ceres on Tuesday, pounding out seven runs on 12 hits. Mallonee drove in a pair of runs, while Gomes allowed just one run on five hits in six complete innings to earn the win.