PASO ROBLES —This week is the most important week in boy’s PAC 8 baseball. Coming into Tuesday, the Paso Robles Bearcats boasted an overall record of (19-5) and a PAC 8 league record of (13-1). The Righetti Warriors entered the week with an identical overall record of (19-5) but because they had two blemishes on their league record (13-2) the Bearcats slightly held the lead in the division. The two teams faced off Tuesday night in the first game of a three-game series that will determine the division winner.
Superstar senior Mathew Sauer leads the Warriors. Sauer is a fireball-throwing, lumber-jack swinging right handed pitcher that has his eyes set on the major leagues. Sauer has already committed to playing at the University of Arizona next year, but his 93 mph fastballs still attracted college and pro scouts in bunches.
The game started perfectly if you are a fan of the Righetti Warriors. Sauer crushed a two-run homer in the top of the first to give himself a comfy two-run lead before ever throwing a pitch. With a pro-prospect power pitcher on the mound the Warriors seemed to have an overwhelming edge just minutes into the big game.
The Bearcats players and crowd were largely lifeless through the next four innings. A misguided throw to first base from starting pitcher Ryan Harvel allowed the Warriors to add another run to their lead in the top of the fourth. Then everything changed. For the last out, in the top of the fourth inning, second basemen Oscar Rendon made a great play on a hard-hit ground ball. The ball was hit between Rendon and second base. He charged it and made a fast throw to first, barely beating the runner and simultaneously igniting the dugout.
As the players returned from the field to prepare for their at-bats, a murmur of excitement began to echo from the home side. The smell of confidence wafted from the dugout. The coaching staff for the Bearcats noticed that Sauer was working fast on the mound — he would be halfway into his wind up before the Bearcat players had dug into the box yet. Their strategy, disrupt his rhythm.
To start the bottom of the fourth inning, Dylan Lewis walked into the box with a much more casual, almost lackadaisical approach. As Sauer was preparing his second pitch, he calmly put his hand up to ask the umpire for a time out, and stepped out of the box. Sauer was already so deep into his wind-up that he threw the pitch over the plate anyways, but was visibly upset. On the next pitch, Sauer walked Lewis on only five total pitches, and the mystique was gone. The Bearcats began playing a mental game with Sauer — Lewis kept taking bigger leads at first that eventually lead to a balk. After the balk, the Bearcats were in the opposing seniors' head and began to chip away at the deficit.
A wild pitch from Sauer at the end of the fourth inning led to the Bearcats' first run. Coming into the sixth inning trailing 3-1, the Bearcats needed to generate some offense. After a Lewis double put a runner in scoring position, Will Stroud hit an RBI single in the next at-bat, closing the gap to one run. Then head coach Derek Stroud made the call for small ball. With the confidence of the Warrior players eroding with their lead, Stroud put the pressure on Righetti’s defense, rather than their all-world player. Hunter Barnhart laid down a beautiful bunt, and the Righetti defense nervously threw the ball into center field trying to get the advancing runner. The Bearcats proceeded to bunt three times in a row, continuing to put the onus on the defense, tying the game at three apiece.
Coach Stroud kept with the formula in the seventh inning. Jeff Giroux led off with a bunt single, and eventually came around to score the game's winning run. With a runner on second, Lewis stepped up to plate, once again in a big moment, and delivered the unquestioned biggest hit of the year, a liner right over the shortstop's head. When Giroux touched home plate the stadium erupted and the players and coaches began to celebrate in typical walk-off fashion.
The series with Righetti continued Thursday at 4:30 p.m. in Santa Maria and the last game will happen today at 4:30 p.m. in Paso Robles.