Placer polishes off Oakdale

Hillmen into section final after sweeping past two-time defending champion Mustangs
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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SACRAMENTO — Joel Thys was happy to trade a dislocated finger for a run Wednesday afternoon. Matt Ryan was thrilled to take a bruising hit in exchange for an out — especially one that sealed Placer High’s first section title game appearance since 1993. Ryan took a throw from Matt Ross to pick off Oakdale’s Craig Lefebvre for the final out as Placer swept the two-time defending Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV champions in their semifinal series. Lefebvre left first base before Ross went into his motion. The senior stepped off and fired to second base, where Ryan held onto the ball after taking a big hit from the Mustang base runner. “I got the ball and he was about six feet away,” said Ryan, who sparked a three-run Placer rally with a single in the third inning. “I got in the base path and I thought he was going to stop, but he had every right to do that. It hurt a little bit, but I’ll take that for the win any day. “If you sacrifice a little bit, I think it works out. A little bit of pain for the victory is worth it.” The victory at McAuliffe Field was all the more impressive considering the opposition. Placer (19-8) had been beaten in the postseason by Mustangs’ ace Justin Jones each of the last two years. The hard-throwing left-hander is committed to Cal and is expected to be a high pick in next month’s Major League draft. “Jones is a great pitcher,” Thys said. “We just wanted to hit the fastball when we could. We knew the pitches he had because we faced him last year and the year before.” The Hillmen rallied for three runs in the third inning, highlighted by Ross’ two-run single into right field. Thys caught up with a fastball and roped an RBI-double to score Ross and give Placer a 3-1 lead. Placer pitcher Matt Dougherty turned in a tremendous effort to earn the win. The senior wriggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning and gave up seven hits in 4 2/3 innings. Dougherty gave way to Ross in the fifth after Oakdale had trimmed Placer’s lead to just one run. Ross was brilliant in relief, giving up just one infield hit on his way to getting the save. Thys dove headfirst into first base to reach on an error and Jordan Arndt sprinted home for the all-important fourth run in the fifth inning. “We talked about it before the game and the one thing we could do today was play harder than them, so we made sure we did that,” Thys said. “We felt like we had the momentum, so we just wanted to keep it throughout the game.” Oakdale hadn’t lost a postseason game since 2006, when Jones suffered the only postseason defeat of his high school career. The Mustangs (26-5) were favorites for the section title again after winning the Valley Oak League in dominant fashion. Jones lived up to his billing, throwing seven innings and surrendering seven hits. He struck out seven. Defense was the difference in the game as Placer played error-free ball behind Ross and Dougherty. Oakdale committed three errors, two of which cost them runs. “I just went out there and gave it all I had and I have a great defense behind me, so I wasn’t too worried,” Dougherty said. “I didn’t care about strikeouts, I just wanted to get outs, any way possible. We scored some runs early and that gave me some room to work.” Placer will take on Pioneer Valley League co-champion El Dorado in the section championship game at noon on Monday at Sacramento City College. The Cougars swept their semifinal series against River City, punctuated by a 4-0 win Wednesday. The Hillmen split their two games against El Dorado in the regular season. “We shared the title with them,” Thys said, “so we’d like to see who the actual champion is.”