STOCKTON - The opening weekend of the 61st Cal-Mex League playoffs produced an early upset.
No. 6 Ceres avenged a pair of regular season losses against the fourth-seeded Stockton Aztecs on Sunday at Stribley Park. The Ceres Coyotes (14-8) won the best-of-three series with Sunday's 9-5 victory and Saturday's 5-0 shutout.
Club Mex also advanced into the second round by sweeping Lathrop 2-1 and 5-1. Club Mexico will play No. 2 Stockton Gigantes, while the Coyotes will play No. 1 Stockton Tigres.
The Aztecs (13-9) rallied for a 3-0 lead in the top of the first when John Guenette, Ray Lemos, and Jeremy Farnsworth scored. The last two were plated by 1999 Lincoln alum Anthony Garibaldi, a 2004 draft pick by the Toronto Blue Jays, when he singled against Ceres pitcher Mike Arnold.
The Coyotes began chipping away at the deficit and scored five unanswered runs for a 5-3 lead. By the fourth inning, the Coyotes had collectively hit for the cycle. That included Haji Reinosa's second home run of the season.
"Being down three in the first, we weren't too concerned," Reinosa said. "If anything's going to happen in the first inning that's fine, we have all of our at-bats to go. Trailing is not really a problem."
Ceres, which returned this season to the league after three years in the Turlock league, has one Cal-Mex championship dating back to 2006. Ceres seemed destined to reach the second round until the Aztecs put that on hold, rallying for two runs in the top of the eighth inning to tie the game at 5-5.
Pinch-hitter Christian Moore scored Lemos, and pinch-hitter Gabriel Rodriguez's sacrifice fly tied it up before Ryan Wagner grounded out to end the rally with the bases loaded.
Again, the Coyotes charged back in the bottom of the eighth by first getting a hit batsman on base. When Ceres' Stephen Rodriguez attempted to bunt Cesar Gonzalez into scoring position, the throw to second was off-line and Gonzalez was ruled safe.
The Aztecs instantly protested, and manager Daniel Gutierrez was eventually ejected. From there, Ceres hit four singles to score four runs off former Lincoln (2003) and Sonoma State pitcher Nick O'Brien.
"(Ceres) just found a couple of bloopers that found a hole and it extended the inning," said O'Brien, who struck out 8, walked one and allowed 15 hits. "Our bats were alright today, but not where they should be. It was a tough loss."
Garibaldi said the controversial call at second base was part of the game.
"We had a tough call there," he said. "You can't blame it on the umpires, but it kind of snowballed and before we knew it we were down by four runs.
"We come out here to have fun first and foremost," Garibaldi added. "Ceres is a great team and we give them all the credit in the world. We just didn't play our best this weekend and now our season is over."
Ceres manager Dustin Donnell credited Arnold (8 strikeouts, 7 walks, 6 hits), a former Stanislaus State pitcher, for keeping the Aztecs at bay after the first inning.
"He's our main guy, we know he's going to throw strikes and we just need to get hits," Donnell said. "We're not home run hitters but we play together, we bunt, and we do things right."