VISALIA — Jeff Wedel is a rough and ready oil guy who grew up in Wasco, played for the Tigers more than two decades ago and now makes a living at Halliburton.
But even the toughest ones around can turn into little kids again in the right circumstance.
Lalo Barraza hit a three-run go-ahead double in the bottom of the seventh inning to give Wasco a one-run lead in the Central Section Division IV baseball championships on Saturday at Rawhide Ballpark in Visalia.
The hit, the victory and that moment when his standout player put the Tigers up for good left Wedel, the baseball coach at Wasco, in awe as the Tigers held on for the 5-4 victory over top-seeded Firebaugh for the program’s first title since 1990.
“I fell to my knees,” Wedel said. “I can’t explain the emotions that came over me at that point. We told those guys from Day 1 that we had to go to work.”
The last championship appearance previously for Wasco (27-2) was in 1993 right here at Rawhide, when Wedel was a senior.
“It feels good,” Wedel said. “Especially after losing in this park my senior year, I told these guys they do not want that feeling. This makes that one go away. This is huge.”
Let’s set the stage for the magical comeback for the Tigers.
Firebaugh scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to break a 1-1 tie, including a two-run single by Isaiah Baez.
Wasco was retired in order in the fifth and sixth innings and trailed by four runs going into the top of the seventh inning.
With one out, Chandler Paul singled and advanced to second on a single by No. 8 hitter Zane Williams.
“What an at bat for Zane Williams,” Wedel said. “He battled off two foul pitches in that at bat to stay alive.”
After Dre Hankins fouled out to the backstop, lead off hitter Jose Becerra walked with the bases loaded.
Dominic Martinez singled in Paul to make the score 4-2 with two outs and kept the bases loaded for Barraza.
“All game long the centerfielder and right fielder, I don’t know if it’s the size of the park and being enclosed like that, but we thought they were playing him shallow,” Wedel said. “His first three at bats they pitched him away.
“But we loaded the bases and we knew they had to come in on him and throw a strike and just make a mistake and he made them pay for that mistake.”
Barraza’s double sailed deep to right-center as the bases cleared and Wasco had the one run lead.
“I was just trying to do anything to help my team,” Barraza said. “If it meant rolling over (on a pitch) and beat out a single, I was going to do anything to get on base to keep us going.”
Martinez retired the Eagles (25-7) in order in the bottom of the seventh and the celebration 27 years in the making began.
“We finally did it. We’ve been working so hard,” Barraza said. “Most of these seniors have been on varsity since their freshman, sophomore years and to we did it as a family.”
Wedel boasts about the hard work of his players and how if he didn’t tell them to go home, the team would stay out on the field until pitch dark.