Shasta College’s Max Holtzclaw winds up to pitch during the Knights’ game against Butte Thursday in Oroville. Holtzclaw struck out five, hit five batters and walked one in the 4-0 loss. (Matt Bates — Enterprise-Record)
By Will Denner, Chico Enterprise Record
BUTTE VALLEY — Thirty wins — the milestone within Butte’s grasp on more than one occasion in the past, but never secured in the regular season.
With a 29-9 record, the Roadrunners were one win away from accomplishing a feat not previously done in head coach Anthony Ferro’s 16-year tenure.
That was motivation enough to defeat Shasta College 4-0 at home Thursday in the team’s final regular season game, behind Austin McFarlane’s complete game on the mound with just one hit allowed and 13 strikeouts.
“We kind of rallied behind that, and we weren’t really thinking about it, but the coaches do a good job of setting the bar really high for us,” said Kasey Buchanan, who finished 2-for-3 with an RBI. “We play with the same intensity every game.”
Butte (30-9) clinched a California Community College Athletic Association playoff berth April 19, before its final two-game series against Shasta.
“Coach Ferro’s never had a 30-win team, so that kind of fueled the fire,” McFarlane said. “I mean, we’ve always had fire going into home games … but that 30 wins, now we’re putting that behind us, and we’re on to the playoffs.”
McFarlane, who improved to 8-2 on the season, held the Knights without a hit through four innings.
“For Austin, he’s come a long way from the beginning of the year,” Ferro said. “I like to see his maturation and his development, and he’s allowed us to coach him up. He’s done a great job.”
Between the second and fourth innings, he struck out six of nine batters faced. Yet the strikeouts, McFarlane said, were simply a byproduct of getting outs. And save for one stretch in the fifth inning, McFarlane and the defense consistently did that throughout the day.
Shasta’s Easton Waterman took first base to begin the fifth inning after he was hit by a McFarlane pitch. Then with two outs, Andrew Durrer singled to give the Knights (7-32) their only hit and put runners on the corners.
That brought up Cody Emmons, who worked a full count and fouled off several more pitches to keep the lengthy at-bat alive. McFarlane then threw a slider low and got Emmons to swing and miss to end Shasta’s scoring attempt.
“Toward the end of the game, they were just thinking curveball, because that’s what I threw most of the time with two strikes,” McFarlane said. “I noticed him choking up. He kept fouling them off … then I just went to the slider with a 3-2 (count) and threw as hard as I could and just trusted it.”
The Roadrunners gave themselves a 2-0 cushion with one run scored apiece in the second and third innings. Kurtis Roberts placed a well-hit ground ball that allowed Sammy Gonzales to score from third base. Buchanan ripped a line drive between first and second base to give Butte a 2-0 lead one inning later.
Gonzales and Roberts got on base in the fifth inning. Both took pitches to the back from Max Holtzclaw, who hit a total of five batters on the day in eight innings on the mound with five strikeouts and one walk.
But Isaiah Morales grounded to Emmons for a double play to end the inning. At shortstop, Emmons toed second base and threw to first to complete an unassisted double play. The Roadrunners ended the game with seven runners left on base, one of the few blemishes on the day.
“Tip your cap; that’s a good pitcher on that side,” Ferro said. “We just got to be better at the plate with runners in scoring position. We had a couple times with runners on third base with less than two outs, and we weren’t able to get the big hit. We got to be able to do that in the future if you want to be successful.”
The Roadrunners can boast about their 30-win regular season, but they will be quick to move on from it. Matchups for the opening round of the CCCAA Playoffs will be announced Sunday.
“It feels great, but it’s behind us now,” Buchanan said. “We’re getting ready for playoffs. That’s what matters the most.”