Ramona third baseman Kyle Wilson tags out Del Norte's Rey Buccat, who doubled and tried to reach third on an errant throw.
The math for the Ramona High baseball team was simple.
Beat Del Norte and the Nighthawks’ lead in the Valley League would be one game with five to play.
Lose and Del Norte’s lead would be a nearly insurmountable three with five to play.
“This absolutely was a game we had to have,” Ramona coach Dean Welch said after a 4-3 road win Wednesday afternoon. “It wasn’t necessarily a do-or-die situation, but it was close.”
With the win, Ramona improves to 15-8 overall and 7-3 in league play. Del Norte slips to 16-7, 8-2.
The teams meet twice more, including Friday at Ramona and May 15 — the last day of the regular season at the well-groomed wind tunnel that serves as a field at Del Norte.
So with the league title on the line, Welch turned to senior right-hander Rhett Williams.
“And he came up big,” Welch said. “We have three great arms (Williams and juniors CJ Broussard and Kyle Wilson). Rhett’s a senior. Rhett’s our guy. I wanted the ball in his hands.”
Williams went 6?1/3 innings, allowing all three runs, two earned, on nine hits. With one out in the seventh, he issued back-to-back walks and gave way to Broussard, who got the final two outs on ground balls.
“I like these kind of games,” Williams said. “I like the pressure.
“I had a good slider and change, used those as my go-to pitches early and late. But my fastball started getting up in the zone in the seventh, and my heart was racing.”
Enter Broussard, Ramona’s cleanup hitter, who had hit into a pair of double plays, grounded out and was robbed of two RBIs on a fine running catch by Del Norte left fielder Rey Buccat, who was the Nighthawks' offensive star with a pair of singles and two RBIs.
“You’ve got to hand it to Broussard,” Welch said. “He had a frustrating day at the plate, but with the game on the line, he came in and got the job done. That kid really competes.”
Del Norte competed to the last out, putting the tying run on third with two outs after a delayed double steal scored a run.
But the Nighthawks left eight runners on base, including five in scoring position.
“We had guys on base, we just couldn’t get ’em in,” said Del Norte coach Rielly Embrey. “You get nine hits in a high school game, you usually win. But we couldn’t get a big hit, and Ramona made a lot of productive outs.
“It would have been nice to win this one and put some distance between ourselves and Ramona. We’ll give it our best effort Friday and see what happens.”