A four-run fifth inning and 3-for-4 day from first baseman Dalton Devries gave American River College a crucial 4-1 win Tuesday in its series opener against Diablo Valley College, placing them ahead of Sierra College (14-19 overall, 8-11 conference) in the Big 8 Conference standings.
The victory was the first of three needed this week, as ARC must win at DVC Thursday and again at ARC on Friday in order to have a shot at the playoffs.
Sierra lost 10-1 at Santa Rosa Junior College Tuesday, leaving ARC (16-18 overall, 8-11 conference) in control of its own destiny if it wins the final two games of the season.
Devries had two RBIs and scored a run, while right fielder Alex Gaskin and third baseman Austin Call also got RBI hits in the win.
ARC starting pitcher Matt Gunter (7-4) had another terrific outing, scattering seven hits with seven strikeouts over eight innings pitched.
DVC’s lone run off Gunter came in the fourth inning on a home run by designated hitter Ian Hardman.
“He got to it and there was a heavy wind,” Gunter said of the pitch. “It was hit well, but not (well enough to be) a home run.”
Gunter ran into some trouble early walking batters in the first few innings, but went nearly untouched following the home run.
“I knew my team would put some runs on the board, so I wasn’t ever really nervous,” he said.
Mike Marlar replaced Gunter in the ninth and notched his state-leading ninth save of the season.
“My pitch count was high and it’s always nice to put Marlar in a save situation,” Gunter said.
Devries once again led the charge for the offense and has amassed at least two hits in every game since its April 14 win at Sierra.
“(The) end of the season’s coming up, and I’m just trying to help this team,” he said. “I’m just trying to bring a winning tradition to AR.”
The offense overall has been more consistent since head coach Doug Jumelet shuffled the lineup three weeks ago, with Devries’s hot streak feeding off on the rest of the lineup.
“Hitting is contagious … one guy does a good job, and everybody wants to do good,” said Devries. “It sparks a lineup.”
Tommy Balmain will get the start Thursday when the team travels to DVC, but said he doesn’t feel nervous given the must-win scenario.
“They’re not the best team in our league,” Balmain said. “But I still have to go out with the same type of mindset.”
If Balmain and the team win on Thursday, playoff hopes rest on the shoulders of Mikey Ramirez Friday at ARC.
Devries has full confidence in both Balmain and Ramirez to pull off what would be a stunning turnaround from 2014’s abysmal last place finish (11-24 overall, 4-17 conference).
“I think they’re going to follow (up Gunter) and do even better. We all want to get to the playoffs.”