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Elk Grove Citizen

Herd Hands First League Series Loss to Wildcats

Apr 25, 2024 09:39AM ● By Alejandro Barron

Russell Pettis warms up before his start on the mound against league rival Franklin Wildcats at their home diamond on April 19. Photo by Alejandro Barron

ELK GROVE, CA (MPG) - For the first time since 2021, the Elk Grove Thundering Herd not only managed to come out victorious over the Franklin Wildcats but also took a series from their league rivals, according to MaxPreps. 
The Herd dropped the first game of this series but walked off on the Wildcats in game two by a score of 4-3 with a single from Ethan Groves. But in their rubber matchup, it was senior Russell Pettis who stood out for the Herd to get the win by a score of 2-0 at the Wildcats home diamond. 
“Russ has been pitching in games like this for us for a long time as a three-year starter so he’s a guy that we trust as much as anybody,” Herd head coach Joe Bellotti said. “We wanted him in this game, the deciding one, and it worked out as he really threw us on his back, to be honest.” 
Part of why Pettis was successful in taking the series was all three of his pitches were mixed, which makes him a tough at-bat, Bellotti said, which led to a complete game two-hit shutout as he struck out 13 batters. 
With this win, Pettis improves to a 5-1 record with 1.69 ERA in 41.1 innings pitched and ranks second among Delta League pitchers in strikeouts with 57, according to MaxPreps. 
As for the Wildcats, who hadn’t lost a league game, senior Jordan Lopez was sent to the mound, but an early mistake cost him a run in the first inning. 
The hero of the second game for the Herd, Ethan Groves, led off with a single, then the lefty Lopez attempted to pick off Groves and he ended up throwing the ball into right field to allow the speedy runner to advance to third. 
With a ground ball to the second baseman, senior Evan Gentil pushed the run across for an RBI to give the Herd a 1-0 lead just two batters into the matchup. 
Groves has been key in the lead-off spot for the Herd all season as he’s currently slashing .429/.481/.471, according to MaxPreps, to give that spark to the Herd offense. 
“He (Groves) puts so much pressure on the other team and there’s so much bat-to-ball contact, he doesn’t really strike out and he’s able to be the motor of this team to really get us going,” Bellotti said. 
After the first two batters, Lopez was able to settle in as he shut out the Herd offense for the next 5.2 innings, allowing four hits and striking out 10 batters. 
“Jordan’s been good for us all year, actually the past three years, and he gets up there and competes and does a great job of pounding the zone,” Wildcats head coach Bryan Kilby said. “I thought he did a great job of keeping their hitters off balance today.” 
Lopez ran into trouble in the fourth inning after allowing a single, a walk then a groundout to move runners to second and third, when with two outs, sophomore Hudson Hall pinch-hit for the Herd, looking to give his team two insurance runs. 
Hudson squared up a ball that was destined to split the gap into right-center field for two RBI’s when senior second baseman Cole Tobey leaped into the air to snag the line drive to save two runs. 
In the bottom half of the fourth inning, the Wildcat offense broke through into the hit column as sophomore Dylan Minnatee singled, but Pettis retired the following three batters to continue his dominance. 
“I feel like we should’ve made some adjustments, but I also feel like Pettis did a great job of keeping us off-balance, out of the zone, threw a bunch of strikes and you just tip your cap to him,” Kilby said.
Lopez was removed after completing the sixth inning and with the unearned run, he remains with a .44 ERA to lead the Delta League and ranks fifth with his 45 total strikeouts. 
Once Lopez’s day on the bump concluded, junior Kyle Pott came in for relief in the seventh inning for the Wildcats, allowing three hits, which included an RBI single to senior Ned Frutchey for an insurance run to take a 2-0 lead. 
Bellotti gives praise to both Wildcat pitchers and also to his offense for waiting out the starter Lopez to come out of the ballgame for them to come alive with a different arm on the mound.
Although a lead-off swinging bunt in the bottom of the seventh inning for a single from Jaydn Ramos gave the Wildcats hope to start a rally, Pettis sat down the next three Wildcats to take the series from their league rival. 
With two league series left for the Wildcats, dropping this series to the Herd doesn’t have Kilby worried as he said he’ll continue to tell his team to relax and go compete. 
As for the Herd, Bellotti said it’s huge to be able to take a series from a league opponent such as the Wildcats. 
“Every series is so big in the Delta League because you have five teams fighting really hard right now,” Bellotti said. “We’re still chasing them by two games, but we want to try to win every game we can because they’re all going to matter at the end when you’re trying to fight for a playoff spot,” Bellotti said. 
The Herd improve to 11-4 in league play as they sit in third place, with the Pleasant Grove Eagles in second place with a 9-3 record, while the Wildcats fall to 10-2 to remain in first place.