With a slew of injuries, a struggling pitching staff and the season on the ropes, Woodcreek baseball coach Kelly Mayo made a tough late-season decision.
He would move standout sophomore Stephen Nogosek into the starting rotation, taking him off the field as the team's outstanding shortstop.
Nogosek rewarded Mayo in a big way tonight.
The right-hander pitched a gem in leading Woodcreek to a 2-0 win over Casa Roble in the single-elimination opening round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs at Sacramento City College.
Nogosek struck out 16 batters and allowed one hit as the Timberwolves (15-12), last-day playoff qualifiers during the regular season, advanced to Saturday's best of three semifinals against Sierra Foothill League rival Roseville.
"He's a heck of a defensive player," Mayo said. "But when our starters weren't getting it done, we had to make the move. But that also meant shutting him down defensively. He throws so hard. I'm not going to risk hurting his arm by putting at shortstop after he pitches."
Casa Roble knows how good Nogosek can throw. He pitched a one-hitter in a 4-0 nonleague win over the Rams April 2. But he only struck out six that time.
Tonight, he struck out seven of the first eight batters. He also struck out the last three batters. He walked four.
"I felt good," Nogosek said. "My arm felt good. My body felt good. Everything was working, my fastball, my changeup. I couldn't have asked for anything better."
Well, a no-hitter might have been nice.
Nogosek had that until Tyler Young singled up the middle to open the sixth. He then worked his way out of a one-out bases-loaded jam by striking out the last two batters of the inning, his 12th and 13th of the game.
"I wasn't really thinking about that," he said of a no-hit bid. "I don't care about my performance just as long as we win."
Nogosek has been a standout for Woodcreek since Day 1.
Mayo decided to bring him up as a freshmen. Nogosek rewarded him then, too, by batting .411, going 4-2 on the mound and earning All-Sierra Foothill League first team honors.
"Usually we don't like bringing up a freshman," Mayo said. "But we knew we weren't going to win a championship last season (10-17) and we were looking to fill holes. He just kept getting better and better."
Mayo's decision to move Nogosek from out of the regular defensive lineup a few weeks ago was made easier for two reasons: The versatility of junior Austin Hagarty - he played second, third and catcher before moving to short - and the return from a football-related injury 10 games ago of speedy junior Shaun Mize, last year's starting shortstop, now a left fielder.
He played a key role in the game's only runs in the top of the sixth.
Mize ended up with an infield double when he tried to bunt Brandon Raposa to second base after Raposa reached first on a lead-off walk.
Casa Roble pitcher Nate Bailey dived head-long for Mize's pop-up along the third base line, but the ball skidded off the tip of Bailey's outstretched glove and rolled toward the third base dugout.
Bailey then uncorked a wild pitch that skidded off catcher Shane Rae's glove and skidded toward the first base dugout. Raposa and Mize both scored.
"If (Bailey) doesn't touch that, it's probably a foul ball," Mayo said. "But you see Shaun's instincts. He's on second base. Then you see the wild pitch and our kids go 'Boom.' We score. That was real good base-running on their part."
Bailey didn't pitch badly for Casa Roble, which finishes 16-11. He allowed four hits and walked three before giving way to Sean Frost, who pitched a scoreless seventh.
- Bill Paterson