While everyone else tried to keep their hearts in their chest Friday at Stockdale High, Mustangs senior Josh Stone was in center field, chasing a baseball and watching Zach Burt.
And when Burt rounded third and broke for home plate, Stone unleashed a throw on one hop to catcher Junior Felix, who blocked the plate and tagged out Burt. One out later, Stockdale had a 1-0 victory over Fresno-Bullard and a berth in the Central Section Division I baseball semifinals.
"I was just hoping he'd go to the plate," Stone said. "I didn't know if I'd get him, but I knew I'd make the best throw I could possibly make."
Stockdale (19-10) scored on an RBI infield single from Drew Allen in the third inning and held tight to that one-run lead behind starting pitcher Jamey Carroll, who held the defending section champion Knights to two hits through six innings -- even though it was only his second start of the season.
"He's not afraid to throw strikes, he's a great competitor, and he has a quality second pitch," Stockdale coach Dan Lemon said. "We were comfortable with him."
But Bullard (18-14), bolstered by great pitching from its starter, Josh Ornelas, rallied in the seventh. Burt and Devin Quiroz both hit line-drive singles with one out. Lemon pulled Carroll in favor of Mustangs ace Max Carter, who needed only 70 pitches to throw a complete-game in Wednesday’s first round.
Pinch-hitter Alex Serna greeted Carter with a single to center. Stone charged, Burt raced around third, and all 1,500 or so in the stands held their collective breath.
“I don’t know if there was a person here whose heart wasn’t pounding,” Bullard coach Chad Thornhill said. “It was an amazing game. It’s one of those games where somebody has to go home, and this time it was us. But we did everything we could.”
After the dramatic out at the plate, Carter struck out Ornelas swinging to send Stockdale into the final four, where the Mustangs — champions in 2008 and 2009 — will play at top-seed Clovis-Buchanan at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“It’s the most amazing feeling,” Carroll said. “We can’t be scared to go after them.”
Carroll loaded the bases in the first inning on Ornelas’ single, a hit batter and an intentional walk. But he induced a deep foulout from Chris Smutny and then didn’t allow another Bullard hit until the sixth.
“I just went out there and did my best to throw strikes and let my defense do the work,” said Carroll, who threw only 67 pitches in
That was the other thing: Stockdale’s defense turned in a performance that was not only flawless but also, at times, spectacular.
Tyler Owens tracked down the Smutny foulout in the corner. Kevin Lee snared a line drive at third base, and a diving Allen did the same at second base. Stone made a diving snow-cone catch of his own for the first out in the sixth.
“We actually hit the ball well today, but the scoreboard doesn’t show it,” Thornhill said. “We found a lot of gloves, and they made some amazing plays.”
And then, of course, there was the defensive play, the throw from Stone and block and tag from Felix that allowed Stockdale to survive.
“Oh my God, my heart was pounding, too,” said Carroll, who had moved to left field. “Right out of my chest it was pounding. That was insane.”