With two runners on and his SSHS squad trailing by two runs, Oates bashed a ball to deep left field. But Bishop Manogue reserve outfielder Matt Vial, nearly falling down backward, made an off-balance catch, just in front of the fence, to rob Oates of a likely game-tying hit and end the game.
Vial's heroics preserved an 11-9 road win for Bishop Manogue in a first-round game of the Northern 4A regional baseball tournament at Spanish Springs Tuesday.
"I didn't think it was out, but I knew it wouldn't be pretty," veteran Manogue coach Charles Oppio said, alluding to Oates' long line drive. "This is huge to stay in the winners' bracket. It just tears up your pitching staff to go into the losers' bracket. That's tough."
The losers' bracket is where Spanish Springs (24-7) finds itself after Tuesday's heart-breaking defeat. The Cougars will go to Carson for a 4 p.m. game against Wooster, an 8-7 first-round loser to Galena. Manogue (19-12) will meet Galena in a winners' bracket battle at 4 p.m. in Douglas.
"I hope we'll turn the corner and play better tomorrow," Spanish Springs coach Mike Bosco said. "Somebody from the losers' bracket will be in that championship game on Saturday. We're just as capable as anyone else. We've got a deep pitching staff with a good team."
The game got away from Spanish Springs in the fourth and fifth innings. The postseason affair was tied at 4-4 after three innings. Manogue took a 5-4 lead in the top of the fourth on a solo homer by its No. 7 hitter, Austin Petersen. The private Catholic school did not relinquish the lead from there. It built on it.
The Miners added four runs in the fifth to extend their lead to 9-4. Taylor Burkett singled, Ben Hewson walked and Justin Boman singled to load the bases for the guests. Kevin Berry followed with a ground ball to third base that was scooped up cleanly by Spanish Springs' Humberto Espinoza. Unfortunately for the hosts, he made a poor throw to the plate and the Cougars could not get the force out.
The miscue made the score 6-4 and left the bases loaded without an out. Hewson and Boman scored on back-to-back wild pitches. Sean DeWeese walked for the Miners and that ended the day for Spanish Springs ace right-hander Jake Bray. SSHS reliever Tim Epker retired three straight Miners to get the Cougars out of the inning, but not before Berry scored as well to cap the inning's scoring, leaving the margin at 9-4.
At that point, Manogue had scored its nine runs on just five hits, three of which were round trippers. The Miners took advantage of some generosity from Spanish Springs, which committed three costly errors. They chased Bray from the game after just four innings of work. He struck out three, but also walked three, hit two and tossed a pair of wild pitches.
"We didn't play very good defense behind him," Bosco said of Bray's ineffective outing. "I'd like to think when we score nine runs with Jake pitching, we should win, but we didn't get it done. Their intensity was better than ours. We didn't play as well as we'd hoped. We didn't deserve to win."
Despite its woes through the first four-plus innings, Spanish Springs stayed in contention. In the bottom of the sixth, the Cougars trimmed the Miners' lead to 9-7 after Espinoza hammered a three-run bomb over the fence in right-center field. Justin Agliolo had doubled and Oates singled ahead of the blast. The inning may have been bigger had Manogue not induced a double play prior to Agliolo's double.
Manogue responded in the top of the seventh, getting two of those runs back when Berry singled and DeWeese drilled a two-run dinger, forging the Manogue ahead 11-7.
The Cougars still had some offensive life in the bottom of the seventh. With one out, Taylor Freshman walked and Anthony Vierra crushed a two-run homer of his own, accounting for the final 11-9 score.
With two outs, Bray walked and Agliolo reached on an error setting the stage for Vial's game-saving catch.
Manogue grabbed the momentum early. The Miners jumped out to a 2-0 edge when their cleanup hitter, Boman, greeted Bray with a two-out, two-run homer in the top of the first. DeWeese made it 3-0 when he led off the Miners' second with a solo home run. Later in the second, Justin Farley walked and scored for a 4-0 BMHS lead.
"This was the most intense we've been all year," Oppio said. "The whole game we were vocal and played with confidence. It made a big difference."
Spanish Springs proceeded to pull into a 4-4 deadlock in its half of the second. Davis Murphy doubled and Brandon Mathis thumped a two-run homer. With two outs, Vierra and Henry Rueda singled and both scored on a Manogue throwing error after a groundball off the bat of Bray.
Spanish Springs, which had run up a 19-game wining streak prior to last week's final High Desert League regular season series against McQueen, has now lost three of its last four games.