Ceres High School's varsity baseball team enjoyed the ride while it lasted.
The Western Athletic Conference co-champion Bulldogs lost 9-6 to Valley Oak League runner-up Sierra in the opening round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV playoffs on Wednesday at Lodi's Tony Zupo Field.
"We didn't want the season to end," head coach John Bussard said.
Ceres High, which captured its first league title since 1991, compiled an impressive 23-7 record this year.
The Bulldogs won 11 of 12 conference games en route to a tie for first place with eight-time WAC champion Central Catholic.
"We had a very special year," Bussard said. "We had a great group of kids. They played really well together."
The Bulldogs were forced to compete shorthanded during their playoff matchup with the Timberwolves (21-4, 12-2).
Sidelined due to arm soreness, ace pitchers Brad Bussard and Alan Marquez were relegated to contributing on just offense and defense.
Bussard and Marquez had a combined record of 15-0 with 94 strikeouts and 19 walks during the regular season.
"We were limited on pitching options," coach Bussard said. "We weren't 100 percent healthy."
Dylan Canatsy started in place of Marquez. The senior southpaw pitched a gem of a game during Ceres High's 10-0 WAC title-clinching victory over Central Catholic on May 6.
Canatsy had trouble locating his fastball versus Sierra. Dylan yielded six runs and eight hits with no strikeouts and two walks in 22/3 innings.
"We knew on Monday Alan wouldn't be able to pitch," coach Bussard said. "His arm was bothering him. It's not worth risking a kid's future."
Ceres High posted a team batting average of .321 versus Sierra.
Brad Bussard finished 1-for-4 with one double, two RBIs and one run.
Twin brother Brent Bussard batted 2-for-4 with one double and one run.
Merrik Price batted 1-for-2 with one double and one RBI.
Marquez batted 1-for-2 with one double and one run.
Brandon Machaco batted 1-for-3 with one double and one run.
Jimmy Bates batted 1-for-4 with one run.
Izaiah Hernandez scored once.
Canatsy and Brett Conway both singled.
Ceres High faced a 9-0 deficit at the end of the fourth inning.
"It was obvious we played a little tight and let the moment get to us," coach Bussard said. "We were doing things we haven't done all year. We made some mistakes. It took us a while to settle down. We finally started hitting like we're capable of."
The Bulldogs tallied one run in the bottom of the fifth inning and five in the seventh to make the contest interesting.
Ceres High left two runners on base in the seventh, and one in both the fifth and fourth.
Sierra's Dakota Conners, who picked up the save in relief, retired Hernandez via strikeout end the game. Bates and Brent Bussard were stranded at second and first, respectively.
"It wasn't a panic situation," John Bussard said. "We continued to fight. We made a pretty good comeback. It exemplified that will-to-win (WTW) attitude."
Price limited Sierra to two runs and two hits while logging three innings of relief on the mound.
"He pitched with a lot of guts," coach Bussard said. "He gave us a chance."
Sierra starting pitcher Leo Soto gave up one run and four hits with three strikeouts and two walks over 51/3 innings. He surrendered just one hit through the first four innings.
Soto received plenty of help from his offense, too.
The Timberwolves batted .393 from the plate as a team.
Sierra had six different players drive in runs.
"They're a gifted hitting team," coach Bussard said. "They're one through five batters are impressive."