Valley Catholic makes Pirates walk the plank

Give the ball to Buuck.

As the Valley Catholic baseball team came all the way back from a 5-2 deficit to take a 7-5 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning of the 3A first-round state playoffs against Dayton, the Valiants were all well aware of what was next.

After senior Carlos Catibayan broke a 5-5 tie by blooping a two-out single to right field that scored Liam Meagher and Sam Teague, head coach Pat Thomas handed the baseball to Carter Buuck, entrusting the Valiants' playoff lives and their 7-5 lead with his star lefty pitcher.

Buuck, successively, gave the Pirates the gas face goodbye.

Amped up to take Valley Catholic to the second round of the postseason and inspired by his team's epic counterpunch in the fourth, Buuck blew Dayton away with three scoreless innings coming out of the bullpen to set the seal on a 7-5 first-round triumph.

The last two years Valley Catholic lost to Burns in the first round of the 3A state playoffs, so to finally get that gorilla off their backs and down Dayton was sweet deliverance. by: COURTESY PHOTO: BARBARA KERR - Valley Catholic starter Nick Quandt pitched four quality innings against Dayton and kept the Valiants in the contest early in a 7-5 win.

“We feel we have a team that can take us all the way to the championship, and this is the first step. We're just taking it one game at a time,” said Buuck. “We haven't made it out of the first round in three or four years, and we think this is just the start of something special. We think we have the talent to take us all the way.”

Thomas took a calculated gamble putting senior Nick Quandt on the hill to start the game instead of his ace Buuck, and the shrewd move paid off in spades. Quandt threw four effective innings in gruesome weather conditions, and Buuck was able to enter the game, slam the door on the Pirates and still keep his arm fresh enough to start against Pleasant Hill on Friday in the COURTESY PHOTO: BARBARA KERR - Valley Catholic shortstop Liam Cassidy had two RBIs for the Valiants in their 7-5 comeback win over Dayton.

Once Catibayan's bloop found grass and brought in the go-ahead runs in the fourth, Buuck knew right away Valley Catholic was going to win it if Lewis gave him the chance. The drizzly elements made the baseball slippery and challenging to curb location-wise, but Buuck smothered nine straight Pirates with dirty diesel fuel down the hatch that Dayton couldn't connect with. Buuck struck out the side in the fifth and terminated Dayton in the seventh with a reared-back fastball that had flames coming off the seams.

“I tried to focus up and keep my mind on the main goal, which is do whatever it takes to win,” Buuck.

“We've been working hard all year for this, to get out of the first round unlike the last two years, and we got the job done,” said Meagher. “We want to keep it rolling, keep this momentum going. We don't want to slow down at all. We got one out of four out of the way, three more to go.”

Valley Catholic took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the second when Liam Cassidy drove in Nick Quandt with a single to center, but Dayton responded with four runs in the top of the fourth — two of which came off bases loaded walks — to take a 5-2 lead.

With just a trio of seniors on the team and only three innings to go, there was certainly good reason for the Valiants to fret. But, instead of panic, they summoned patience. Instead of descending into chaos, they were calm.

“Our team motto is to never let stuff faze us,” said Catibayan. “If we get down, we always get back. We always play hard, and we never give up. We always stay loose and try to keep making jokes in the dugout — and never panic. When we hit the ball hard, good things happen.”

Score runs, get the ball to Buuck and go to the second round, Valley Catholic thought.

In the fourth, Alex Hyland drew a bases loaded walk that brought a run across. Then, with the bases loaded, Teague torched a ball to the hot corner that was fielded by the third baseman. However, the Pirate didn't throw to second base for the force out, first for the put out or tag third base for the sure out, so Hyland scored, and all the runners were safe to cut the deficit to 5-4.

“This is a team that doesn't give up,” said senior Chris Custer, who singled in the deciding fourth. “We've been down in multiple games, but we always have that one inning where we break away, so that was our normal ground to comeback. It wasn't anything different for us, just our normal baseball.”

Rei Yoshioka walked with the bases loaded to plate the tying run, and Catibayan's go-ahead clip ensured Buuck would indeed get a chance to close the game out on the hill. Valley Catholic was even-tempered at the dish, but dogged in its approach. The team made Dayton pitcher Forrest Garcia throw strikes, which in the constant, cold downpour was nearly impossible. Valley Catholic let Mother Nature do her thing in the fourth and sent enough batters to the plate that by the time the monsoon-ish weather system had passed through, Buuck was loose and ready to throw.

“We knew (Garcia) was all over the place, and he was all over the place mentally too,” said Meagher. “We just wanted to wait for our pitch, look for fastballs and strikes, and drive the ball. We worked the counts, got on base and got it done any way we could.”

Buuck, the hard-throwing hurler, who threw a perfect game earlier this season, likes to think if the Valiants can give him one or two runs of cushion, he can take it the distance. But, Buuck knows he's not going to be impeccable every game and he needs his mates in the field to back him up if the Valiants want to reach the 3A state championship.

“The defense behind me is amazing, and Mar (Meagher) was working hard behind the plate, so all I knew is I had to throw strikes and get the job done,” said Buuck. “It's not just me. We hit the crap out of the ball. We have great defense and great energy. We're all in this together.”

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