Rick Sawyer gathered his Highland baseball team around after Madera South scored two runs in the top of the first inning in Friday’s Central Section Division III quarterfinals.
The Highland coach, who has a voice that carries, told his team to “relax and just go out there and score 20.”
The third-seeded Scots nearly did just that in a 16-6 home victory over No. 6 Madera South.
“I mean it. This team can hit,” Sawyer said. “It doesn’t matter who we are playing. I am confident in that. We just had a weak first inning. We had three errors. It didn’t look good.”
Highland (25-3) will host No. 7 Kerman on Wednesday in the D-III semifinals after the Lions defeated No. 2 Selma 9-7.
“This is really big,” Highland junior pitcher Cade Sakamoto said. “I love playing here at home. It’s a lot of fun.”
The Scots have been building to this point for the past three seasons. They’ve won 64 games since 2015 after just two winning seasons during the previous 11 years.
Highland is seeking the program’s first section title, and 25 wins extends a school record, besting the 20 wins the Scots had last season, according to section historian Bob Barnett.
“We just really enjoy playing baseball,” Sakamoto said. “This is a fun team to be a part of.”
Highland scored 10 of its 16 runs against Madera South during the second inning, with eight coming with two outs.
“We are never out of a game,” Sakamoto said. “We have a lot of good hitters on the team and we always come back.”
Chase Morales and Nico Joven both hit three-run triples in the second and Andres Garza and Sakamoto both walked with the bases loaded against a Stallions’ pitching staff that struggled to find the strike zone.
“This team is pretty resilient,” Sawyer said. “The team is excited about being in the playoffs. They have played well all year.”
While the Scots were at the plate for nearly a half-hour, Sakamoto’s left arm rested. The senior came out and retired the Stallions (14-16) in order. He gave up three runs in five innings of work while going 3 for 3 with two RBIs and reaching base in all five plate appearances.
“The hardest thing to is pitch with a big lead,” Sawyer said. “He just maintained his composure.”
The win is also the first in the playoffs for Sawyer since he took over the baseball program at Highland in 2013.
Joven (3 for 4) and Morales (2 for 3) each had four RBIs for Highland, while senior Landn Kauk had two singles.
Kauk will sign to play at Vanguard University at 2:20 p.m. Monday in the Highland library.