The San Marcos baseball celebrates after beating rival Dos Pueblos, 4-2, at Joe Mueller Field. (Jim Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

San Marcos put itself in the thick of the Channel League baseball race on Tuesday with a 4-2 win over Dos Pueblos at Joe Mueller Field.

Louie Shalhoob singled in two runs and made two big defensive plays in center field, Mason Metcalfe pitched six solid innings and Blake Katsev ended a late DP rally and the game with two strikeouts in the seventh.

The result puts San Marcos at 3-3 and Dos Pueblos at 4-3 in a wild and crazy league title chase.  Buena is 5-4 after losing 17-12 to Ventura (2-4) on Tuesday and Santa Barbara is 4-4.

Shalhoob gave the Royals a 2-0 lead in the second inning when he stroked a single into right-center field off DP starter Kevin Barker to drive in Matt Neal and Josh Kang, who each singled.

“It’s been so long I have hit,” said Shalhoob, the Royals’ No. 9 hitter. “The beginning of the season I could not hit the ball. I have no idea why. If it wasn’t for John Guardino (teammate Ryan Guardino’s father) letting me hit in his (batting) cage at his house, I wouldn’t have been able to get that bunt (single) down (in the sixth), that (two-run) hit and hard ground balls. It felt so nice.”

San Marcos coach Jacob Pepper was glad to see Shalhoob break out of a slump.

“He’s really struggled this year, and for him to come up and get us a little bit of momentum there was really important,” Pepper said. “He deserved the game ball today.”

“Louie, I think, personally, won the game for us,” said Katsev. “Coming from the bottom of the lineup, he came up huge. He made some great plays in the outfield, made a great bunt, and had a huge double. That’s always good when he gets on, because the whole team feels it.”

Matt Neal of the Royals is plunked with a pitch in the third inning.

Matt Neal of the Royals is plunked with a pitch in the third inning.  (Jim Corliss / Noozhawk photo)

Shalhoob’s big hit came after he started a double play with a catch in center field to thwart a Dos Pueblos scoring threat in the top of the second. With the bases loaded, he caught Jed Donelan’s fly ball and fired a relay throw to shortstop Ryan Guardino, who threw to second baseman Josh Kang to nail the Charger baserunner at second.

Shalhoob came up with another clutch play in the fifth, making a diving catch on a sinking fly ball by D.J.Sharpe.

“That was more weight off my shoulders after that pitch,” said Metcalfe. “I was really stoked my defense had my back. It was good win all around.”

Metcalf allowed two runs, four hits and two walks, and struck out three to earn the win. Barker pitched four innings, giving up four runs on six hits.

“You got to tip your cap to him, he gave his team a chance to win and they did what they needed to do to finish the ballgame,” said DP coach George Hedricks of Metcalfe and the Royals. “We didn’t string enough hits together, didn’t get them to fall when we needed.”

Colter Nisbet had two hits and a walk for DP. Nolan Cope and Guardino each collected two hits for San Marcos.

The Royals (11-8) gave Metcalfe a 4-0 lead to work with in the fifth. Kyle Gonzalez drew a walk off and Nolan Cope followed with a single off DP reliever Julian Amador. Guardino bounced a single to left to drive in Gonzalez for the third run and Cope scored on an infield error on Neal’s ground ball.

“One or two bad pitches can hurt you and that’s what happened today,” said Hedricks.

An error and a walk opened the door for a Dos Pueblos comeback in the seventh. With one out, Donelan doubled into the right-center field gap to score Peter Appel and Josh Feldhaus to cut San Marcos’ lead in half.

Katsev changed roles, going from third baseman to closer and he slammed the door on the Chargers (14-7) with two strikeouts.

“I was mentally prepared for that,” Katsev said of closing out the game. “There’s no way I was going to lose against those guys. We’re out here to win it; we got a good season ahead of us.”

Said Pepper about the race for the title: “It’s going to come down to the team that plays clean baseball. We lost the last four we played after beating Santa Barbara.  It was definitely important to get this win and get our swagger back, so to say.”

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Barry Punzal, Sports Editor

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