Wildcats Conquer Adversity - Win Four Straight Games To Claim D-VI Section Baseball Championship
STOCKTON, CA – On May 17th the Wildcats dreams of a section title came within one loss of being crushed. They lost and lost big against league rival Ripon Christian in the second round of the Division VI Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs. The only pathway to getting on top of the baseball mountain would be four straight wins, and two of those four had to come on the day of the championship itself. The Wildcats were never deterred, never stopped believing, and were never out of contention for a title. However, the odds and those making predictions were very much against them.
The 5th-seeded Wildcats dusted themselves off from the defeat against Ripon Christian and faced a strong Golden Valley team on May 20th. The Result: 8-2 Win. One down and three-to-go. The next stop was to meet the team that just defeated them, their vaunted league rival Ripon Christian, who just took a loss from Mariposa, yet another league rival. In a closely contested game, the Wildcats prevailed 8-6 on May 22nd. They would face Mariposa in an All-Southern Athletic League contest for the Section Championship on Memorial Day. The Wildcats faced the daunting task of winning two games in a row, and they would have to do it back-to-back on the same day.
“The course of the D-VI playoffs showed the class of the Southern League,” said Waterford’s Head Coach Mike Vivo. “Mariposa and Ripon Christian are mainstays, and to beat them is huge.”
Game one started with a bang for Waterford. Up 8-1 in the 4th inning, it looked almost sure that the
Wildcats were going to force a deciding game two at University of the Pacific’s Klein Family Field. However, adversity came knocking once again, just as it had all year long for Waterford. Mariposa would score eight runs in the final three innings to close the gap with Waterford. Waterford would put two more runs on the board in the 6th inning, but two very costly unforced errors from the Wildcats allowed Mariposa to make it 10-9 in the bottom of the 7th. Like these Wildcats have done all postseason long, they looked adversity right in the eye, and they conquered it. Pitcher Lucas Alaniz would ring up the third out of the inning and the game with a beauty of a strikeout. He would get the save, and give his teammate, fellow pitcher Frankie Casale, the win.
Game two began just thirty minutes after the nail-biting conclusion of game one. Waterford won the coin-toss and became the home team for the second winner takes all showdown. Mariposa scored right away in the 1st inning taking an instant 1-0 lead. That old nemesis known as adversity was once again on the Wildcats door. Once again, Waterford took adversity head on, and put up two runs of their own in the bottom of the 1st inning. The score remained 2-1 into the 5th inning of a game where both teams showed amazing defensive skill. Mariposa and Waterford exchanged beautiful plays on defense, which clearly showed why they were the last two teams engaged in this the final battle for the D-VI title. The Wildcats offense roared once again in the bottom of the 5th inning, and they added a precious run. They held Mariposa scoreless, and put yet another runner across the plate in the 6th inning. It was now the top of the 7th inning, and Waterford found themselves just three outs from their first section championship in school history for the sport of baseball. Mariposa put a runner on early, and that runner would score later in the inning. The score was now 4-2 with the tie run warming up in the circle, but the Wildcats would not allow adversity, their opponents, or their nerves to keep them from their earned date with destiny. A called strike three from a nasty curveball pitched by Lucas Alaniz would bring out number two. Out three, the out that clinched a championship for Waterford, would come from a high infield pop-fly. It would be Alvaro Perez at third base who got under the ball and let it snap home into his glove. That catch that brought that ever so satisfying and emotional moment for his team. That snap of a ball hitting his glove was the sweet sound of Waterford bringing back home a Section Championship against all the odds.
Pitchers Lucas Alaniz and Frankie Casale anchored the day. Alaniz pitched a complete second game which was his fourth complete game of the season. Mike Vivo Jr. was nearly perfect at the plate for Waterford. Vivo went 5-for-6 in two games posting three RBIs. Ruben Rios and Lucas Alaniz would combine for 10-for-23 in both, and together the two teammates posted eight RBIs across both games. Many others also shined in big moments, in what was two highlight-filled and thrilling games. The reality is both of these games come with complete team performances from Waterford and too many highlight quality plays to report in one story.
“Leadership from Vivo, Alaniz, Gookin & Casale as well as getting healthy were big factors,” said Coach Vivo. “We had a bend but don’t break mentality, and we consistently responded to adversity. When big moments called for it, we answered, and we scored.”
Waterford traveled in force to Stockton. They rivaled the crowd size of a Mariposa School that is known for traveling well, especially to championship games.
“That was the sweetest moment for me, turning around and seeing how many folks came from home to root these kids on,” said Waterford’s Athletic Director Josh Whitfield. “To see them all giving these boys a standing ovation at the end of two hard-fought games, it made me emotional. Those boys deserved every second of that.”
To that point, Waterford and Mariposa had Klein Field filled with more fans then the big schools D-III game that followed. It looked relatively evenly split in attendance between the two small towns. It was small school sports at its finest, with close to 200 people in attendance on Memorial Day, on championship day.
“We cannot thank our community enough for their enormous support today,” added Coach Vivo. “It definitely helps also to have a principal who supports our program with all her heart.”
Waterford gained a new Principal this school year in Peggy Herndon, who was praised by coaches
and fans alike today for being virtually at every game this season.
Whitfield agreed with that sentiment saying, “Peggy has been that tough but loving momma bear these young bucks needed.”
No one seemed to seriously give the Wildcats a serious shot at winning the DVI title. Proof of that was Waterford drawing just the 5th seed in the D-VI bracket despite going 1-1 against both the top two seeds, Ripon Christian and Mariposa, in league play respectively. Then there was no mention of Waterford in local news headlines leading up to this Championship Monday. Waterford’s A.D. had something to say about that when asked as well, curtly replying, “Well everyone was wrong, dead wrong. And I’m glad our boys proved them all wrong. No one over here ever stopped believing in these young men.” Waterford was determined to not let their underdog status keep them from their dream. Mission Accomplished in that regard. With or without headlines, or media coverage, they defeated the top 4 seeds above on their way to planting their flag on top of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI Baseball mountain top.
This will be the first Baseball Section Championship for Waterford High School. It is the sixth Section Title in school history. When asked what this accomplishment meant to his team and the school, Coach Vivo said, “It’s very sweet. We have seven seniors who have been a huge part of this program over the last three years. They have built a foundation for the underclassmen to build off of.” For the senior class it has been a roller coaster of a school year and many of the seniors who were on the baseball field Monday afternoon are multiple sport athletes for Waterford. When asked about the highs-and-lows from the journey these seniors took this year, Coach Vivo said, “Nothing that happened earlier this year had any bearing on our Baseball season or the playoffs. We just played ball and focused on what was in front of us all season.”
Waterford Baseball’s title win today has capped off another strong year in athletics for the Wildcats. The small farming town’s only high school will close the book on this year with nine teams making the postseason, two teams winning league titles, a dozen more individual athletes winning league titles, and an astronomical ninety-four league scholar-athlete winners. However, the Baseball program’s D-VI Section Championship will be the headline for the history books when people look back at this 2018-2019 school year.