There was no question Stockdale’s baseball team knew the scorecard entering its playoff matchup with Fresno-Bullard: The Knights had knocked the Mustangs out of the playoffs in each of the past three seasons.
That made Friday’s outcome even more satisfactory: No. 2 seed Stockdale 10, No. 7 Bullard 1 in front of an overflow crowd at Stockdale, which advances to the Central Section Division I semifinals to host Clovis on Wednesday.
“We wanted them all along,” junior pitcher Sean Mullen said. “We knew we were gonna have a pretty solid year, and we just always seem to match up with them, so yeah, we wanted their butts pretty bad.”
Mullen had a nervy first inning, walking three consecutive Bullard batters to load the bases with one out. But he struck out Christian Collins and Jackson Simons to extinguish the threat without a run scoring.
“I’m just thanking God that he has a 90 mph fastball to work around that situation,” Stockdale assistant coach Brian Devitt said. “But we know he’s gonna compete. He put himself in a little tough spot, but when it was time to go get those guys, we knew he would bear down and go get them.”
Mullen never totally tamed that wild horse of a fastball, but he grinded through five innings, allowing one unearned run on just two hits. He struck out eight but walked seven and threw 100 pitches.
“Some went over the plate, some didn’t,” he said. “... I wasn’t letting go of the ball at the same spot every time. I guess it was a little effective, because they didn’t know where it was going, and neither did I.”
Stockdale (26-3) supported him plenty, rapping out 13 hits. The top four hitters in the Mustangs’ lineup combined for nine of those hits: Mullen was 2 for 4 with a double and a triple, Jalen Smith 2 for 3, Jacob Ruley 2 for 2 with three RBIs and Cole Sheedy 3 for 4 with two doubles and two RBIs.
“We put it all together today,” Devitt said. “The kids played really well.”
Ryan Darbee was 2 for 2 and Alejandro Murillo hit a solo home run and pitched two scoreless innings in relief of Mullen. Bullard (18-11-1) had just three hits and was 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position.
“You have a pitcher like Mullen against the ropes and you don’t take advantage of it, it makes it an uphill battle,” Bullard coach Chad Thornhill said. “We had our opportunities, but we couldn’t take advantage.”
It was the first playoff victory for Stockdale head coach Brad Showers, who is over his Bullard hurdle and received the game ball from his team. The Mustangs can now look forward to No. 3 Clovis, which came from behind to beat Tulare Western 6-5 in walk-off fashion in its quarterfinal.
The last two playoff games between Clovis and Stockdale have been instant classics: Stockdale’s 7-6, eight-inning thriller at home for the 2008 section title and Clovis’ five-run rally in the bottom of the seventh to win 8-7 in the 2010 quarterfinals.
“It’s gonna be fun,” Mullen said. “They’re always gonna be a dogfight team, and we’re a dogfight team. It’d be a fun game to watch, that’s for sure, and it’ll be even more fun to play in.”