The Monterey High baseball team used small-ball to force extra innings. Then Branham used the long ball to settle things.
The Toreadores laid down about a half dozen bunts in the first six innings of Wednesday’s Central Coast Section Division II playoff opener at Sollecito Park, including back-to-back bunt singles by Jordan Esposo and Anthony Arzadon to score their first run of the game in the fifth inning.
A sacrifice bunt by Monterey in the sixth inning moved the tying run to second, and Matt Eason made the move pay off with a line drive that richochet off the pitcher’s mound just enough to handcuff the shortstop and allow the tying run to score.
But in the top of the eighth with a runner on first and nobody out, left-hand hitting Drew Copper sent a towering drive over the right field fence about 320 feet away that powered 10th-seeded Branham (17-11) to a 5-2 victory, handing the seventh-seeded Toreadores (16-12) a rare first-round loss.
It was only the third time in the past 15 years Monterey has been bounced out of the CCS playoffs in the first round. It was a much different story for Branham of Campbell, which advanced past the first round for the first time in nine years.
“I was looking for a pitch inside at the knees — something I could barrel-up — and that’s exactly what I got,” said Cooper.
It was the third homer of the season for Cooper, but none had come at a time like this.
“It was the best feeling ever,” he said.
Monterey got the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the inning, but a fielder’s choice grounder ended the game.
It was a disappointing and frustrating outcome for Monterey, which had runners in scoring position every inning but the first and seventh.
“We got them on we just couldn’t get them in,” Monterey coach Michael Groves said.
Twice Monterey had runners thrown out on the bases just as it was set up for a big inning. It had runners on first and second with one out and the top of the order up in the third inning, but the runner on first was picked off and the next batter grounded out to end the threat.
In the fourth inning, the Toreadores had runners on first and second and one out, but the lead runner was thrown out by the pitcher while trying to swipe third base.
“That was a really big play,” Groves said. “We had the makings of a big inning with speed on the bases.”
Eason started and pitched seven innings for Monterey. He gave up seven hits, but was hurt by a pair of walks in the first inning that the Bruins cashed in for a run.
A sacrifice fly scored their other run in the third.
Every starter but one had a hit for Monterey, which had nine for the game. Jimmy Hill had a pair of singles, walked and scored a run.