Coaches preach about getting hot at the right time and needing a little luck to go your way as well. That sums up Spanish Springs as the Cougars picked up their third straight playoff win and are the lone undefeated team left in the regional tournament.
The SSHS crew trounced Bishop Manogue 11-1 in a winners' bracket game at Reno High School Thursday. That five-inning, mercy-rule victory, combined with a 16-0 romp over Carson Tuesday, and a 7-3 win over Reno Wednesday, advances Spanish Springs into Saturday's regional final, set for noon at RHS.
Any team coming out of the losers' bracket would have to beat Spanish Springs twice on Saturday to keep the Cougars from earning the North's lone berth into next week's state tournament in Las Vegas. Spanish Springs would appear to be in the driver's seat.
"We certainly feel like it," Cougars' coach Ben Hofmann said. "We've just gotten good starting pitching and that's the difference. We've given up four runs in three playoff games. I like our chances when we do that."
Tanner Oates gave Spanish Springs its latest stellar performance on the hill. The senior right-hander gave up just the one run, which was earned, Thursday against the Miners. He limited Manogue to four hits while striking out one and walking one.
"He really located his off-speed stuff," Hofmann said. "A couple times this year he has not gotten it over for strikes. Today, he really located good."
Spanish Springs (25-8) immediately put the pressure on Manogue, which committed five errors in defeat. The Cougars, who are the tournament's No. 4 seed, pushed across six runs in the top of the first inning and never looked back.
Jake Bray doubled to lead off the game and Tanner Oates singled. Chase Kittilsen and Kendall Murphy proceeded to lace RBI singles that gave the SSHS nine an early 2-0 edge. Later in the inning, Kyle Clark hit a three-run homer that capped the local school's big first inning.
"I think we're in a groove," Clark said. "Driving in runs any way you can is huge. Everybody did a good job with that today, not just me."
Bishop Manogue (20-12) got a run back in the first when Mark Farthing walked and scored on a Sean Deweese double. Unfortunately for the private Catholic school, that's all the offense it could muster against Oates on the day.
"Tanner is a competitor and he pitched a great game," veteran Manogue coach Charles Oppio said. "They jumped on us with that six-run first and we never answered. Obviously, making five errors and dropping two fly balls in a big zone game doesn't help."
Already leading 6-1, Spanish Springs put the game out of reach by putting up five more runs in the top of the third. Clark reached on an error. Then with two outs, Shane Lawson reached on another Miners' fielding miscue. Bray stepped in next and hammered a two-run double, making the Cougars' lead 8-1.
Yet another Miners error allowed Oates to reach safely and then Kittilsen was hit by a pitch, loading the bases for Kendall Murphy. The Spanish Springs senior drilled a ball off the fence for a three-run, bases-clearing triple to account for the final 11-1 deficit.
"I feel like our dugout is picking us up and giving us confidence," Murphy said. "When you have confidence, everything is better. We're all seeing the ball well right now. We just need to keep doing what we're doing."
Spanish Springs hitters racked up 11 hits in the shortened tournament tilt.
"We're a contagious hitting team, like most teams for that matter," Hofmann said. "When we get a couple hits, things snowball for us. That makes it easier for your starting pitching too. Those guys can relax when they know that one mistake won't kill them."
While the Cougars are getting hot at the right time offensively, and getting good starting pitching, they're also playing near flawless defense while their opponents are not. In three regional playoff games, SSHS foes have committed 12 errors. In turn, Spanish Springs has made its opponents pay for those woes.
"That's the key. That's what good teams do. When teams make mistakes, you make them pay. Reno has done it for years," Hofmann said, alluding to the perennial Northern 4A power Huskies. "The little mistakes really add up. And right now, that's what we're doing, making teams pay for their mistakes."
Spanish Springs High has been open 10 years and the Cougars baseball team has qualified for postseason play six times in that stretch. This is just the second time Spanish Springs has won its first three playoff games. The other occasion was 2005, when the Sparks school won its only Northern 4A baseball crown.