Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
After sweeping a 3-game series at Lowry last weekend, the Fernley High School baseball team enters this week’s 3A Northern League Tournament in South Tahoe as the No. 5 seed with a 13-11 record in league play.
The Vaqueros open the tournament at 10:30 a.m. Thursday against Fallon, the No. 4 seed. The loser will be eliminated, while the winner advances to the semifinals, where the tournament becomes double elimination. The first-round winner will face Spring Creek at 3:30 p.m. Thursday. All games are being played at South Tahoe Middle school.
The sweep at Lowry completed Fernley’s recovery from a 7-game losing streak earlier this season, and has the Vaqueros going into the tournament with momentum.
“I hope we’ve done what we needed to do to turn the corner,” coach Jerry Torres said. “I’m excited.”
The Vaqueros beat the Buckaroos 12-1 and 8-7 on Friday, and 7-2 on Saturday.
Joe Ellis and Josh Kirk were both 3-for-4, when Ren Arroyo, Drake Howe, Kyle Heimbruch and Ryan Harer all had two hits. Pitcher Brandon Hlade went six innings and allowed just three hits and one walk.
In the second game, Jay King went 3-4 and drove in two runs, while Gave Wilson was 3-5.
Sam Ramirez was the winning pitcher, with 4 innings of relief, allowing two runs on one hit.
In the finale, Heimbruch drove in three runs, Arroyo and Howe drove in two each and Mason Timbrook got the win with five innings out of the bullpen.
The previous weekend, the Vaqueros played three 1-run games in Elko, winning the first 10-9 in 8 innings, before losing 12-11 and 5-4.
The Vaqueros have gone 6-4 over the last three weeks of the season.
“I’ve been able to work with the coaches and get our defense set and the lineup solidified,” Torres said. “I think we’re in right situation right now and hitting wise, we’re coming along.”
King has moved from shortstop to second base, Howe from second to third and Zach Burns from first to shortstop, which Torres said has solidified the infield defense. When Burns pitches, Heimbruck fills in at short.
The Vaqueros have also gotten good pitching, which will be the key to success this weekend. Because pitchers are limited to 140 pitches or 11 innings in a week, whichever they reach first, teams will need to go beyond their top two pitchers to advance to the state tournament.
Torres said he feels good about Fernley’s group of four starting pitchers, Mason Timbrook, King, Burns and Brandon Hlade, with Ramirez and Wilson as the first relievers out of the bullpen. He said the Vaqueros also may also need some good work from Joe Ellis and Drew Miller.
“If I need to, I’ll have 11 guys I’ll throw,” Torres said.
Similarly, Torres said the team’s approach at the plate will be to make opposing pitchers work
“You can’t have a lot of early swings, you’ve got to work pitchers, try to get into a count you can be aggressive on and take your walks,” he said. “Strikeouts hurt.”
Spring Creek enters the tournament as the No. 1 seed with a 19-5 league record, and Dayton is No. 2 at 18-6. Those two teams receive a bye to the semifinals, while Elko (No. 3, 17-7) faces South Tahoe (No. 6, 13-11) in the other first round matchup.
“Any of the six teams can beat any of the others,” Torres said. “The 4-5 and 3-6 teams are good too.”
The Vaqueros lost two of three games to Fallon in the regular season, winning 1-0 on March 28, and losing 11-1 April 11 and 10-0 on April 25, a game that was 2-0 in the sixth inning.
“I like our chances,” Torres said. “For us, Fallon has been tough all year, but I’m excited where we’re at, and we’ll go from there.”
Photos by Michael Michaelsen, for The Fernley Reporter