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Bruins bowled over in playoff opener

Vanden stuns Bear River, as postseason success eludes the Bruins again
By: Mark DeVaughn, Journal Assistant Sports Editor
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SACRAMENTO - Two words describe Bear River's latest go-around in the Sac-Joaquin Section baseball playoffs. Painfully familiar. For the fourth straight season, the Bruins couldn't advance past the opening round. Vanden bounced Bear River into the offseason Saturday by handing the Pioneer Valley League co-champions a 4-2 loss at McAuliffe Field in a Division III first round game. Mistakes killed Bear River's hopes of extending two impressive streaks. In search of their 19th straight win, the Bruins (22-2) committed four errors. Three of those mistakes came in innings where the Vikings (20-3) scored runs off starter Tyler French, who came into the game with a 10-0 record. French went 2-for-3 at the plate, doubling to lead off the seventh and scoring later in the inning on John Mobley's RBI groundout. That cut the Vikings' lead to 4-2 with two outs. But Brynn Beck's sharp grounder to third instead became the final out of the game. One of just three varsity players who return next year for Bear River, Beck then stood frozen along the foul line along first, hands clutched behind his head in disbelief. "We didn't come to play today," French said. "We weren't prepared. I don't know why. Too many mental mistakes, too many physical mistakes. I just don't know." Not since April 19 - when the Bruins beat Morse of San Diego 3-1 - had a team limited Bear River to so few runs. The Bruins scored single-digit runs only eight times all season. The nine Bruin seniors will graduate with a PVL co-title (with Oakmont) this year and a host of other tournament titles won over the last few years, but the program will have to wait at least another season for its first postseason victory. "I don't know what the magic formula is," head coach Mike Viola said. "Maybe we don't play enough good teams during the season. We can't seem to be prepared once we get here. But it's nobody else's fault. It's us. You can't kick the ball around in a playoff game." The trouble really began in the third inning with the score tied 1-1. Jason Ayers led off with a dribbler to the first base side of the mound, which French bobbled before Ayers beat the Bruin senior left-hander's throw to the bag. One out later, Eddie Bell dropped a bunt down first base line that was ruled fair when it rolled dead along the chalk just in front of the plate. Runners then stood at the corners with one out. French then picked Bell off first, but first baseman John Mobley sent his throw to third - in a effort to make it a double-play - over the fence along the third base line. Ayers trotted home and the Fairfield side had a lead it would hold for the remainder of the contest. Bear River's aggressiveness at the plate gave it an early 1-0 advantage. Matt Miraldi sent the first pitch of the game to left-center for a base hit. Both Ryan Giacomini and Robby Alcombrack were first-pitch swinging on ensuing groundouts to third, and junior A.J. Nunez drove Miraldi home from second with a single past first base. Only twice more would the Bruins advance a runner past first base against Vanden starter Scott Stewart, who struck out nine in a complete-game effort. Alcombrack ripped a shot to left with Miraldi on second with two outs and Bear River trailing 2-1 in the third, but Billy Moffett was there to track it down. In addition to freezing them with off-speed pitches down in the strike zone, Stewart often had the Bruins chasing pitches above the letters. Bear River collected just four hits while French - who scatted seven and fanned nine in his complete game - settled down after some early wildness. Vanden loaded the bases with no outs in the second after a single, a walk and a hit batter. Stewart singled to bring home one run before Nunez's throw home from right nailed another runner trying to score. "(Stewart) didn't have anything we hadn't seen before," French said. "One through nine, we have good hitters, but I don't think he was anything special. I don't think the better team won today. I think we made too many mistakes." Up 3-1, the Vikings pushed another run across in the sixth. After second baseman Ryan Giacomini bobbled Ayers grounder with two outs, French surrendered an RBI double to the left field fence. Sophomore pitcher Vince Viola joins Nunez and Beck on the varsity roster a year from now. "I don't want to think of us as rebuilding," Mike Viola said. "I'd rather we reload."