Special to LTN
PUMPKIN CENTER â€” The North Lincoln Knights fell to 1-5 on the season after losing a nail-biter to the Ashbrook Green Wave 3-2 in nine innings on Saturday afternoon.
North Lincoln sent senior pitcher Joey Royko to the mound to start against Ashrook senior Cramer Lewis. The two pitchers put on a clinic throughout the game.
The Green Wave (4-0) struck first in the top of the opening frame when Ross Taylor plated Corey Cobb from third base on an infield hit to the hole between the shortstop and third baseman to give Ashbrook an early 1-0 lead. Royko settled in and struck out Ashbrook second baseman Bailey Faulkner to end the inning.
In the first inning Lewis faced five batters, allowing a hit to the Knightsâ€™ lead-off man Andy Stidham, but stifled the North Lincoln threat by striking out Royko to end the inning and strand runners on first and second.
Royko found his groove in the second inning. After allowing a single up the middle to Matt Jordan, who was ultimately caught trying to steal second by the Knightsâ€™ Zac Reeder; Royko struck out the next two batters with an over-powering fastball and a knee-buckling curveball.
Lewis matched Royko nearly pitch-for-pitch throughout the game but used a different style of pitching. The lanky left-hander allowed the Knights to put the ball in play and let his defense do the heavy lifting. North Lincoln didnâ€™t have a runner advance past second base until the sixth inning. As effective as his pitches were, Lewisâ€™s pick-off move to first base gave the Knights fits all afternoon.
Royko retired the Green Wave in order in the third and fourth inning with two strikeouts in each inning which brought his strikeout total to seven in just four innings.
Ashbrookâ€™s Jordan led off the fifth inning with a single to left field and advanced to second on a fielderâ€™s choice. Jake Kennington came to the plate and blasted a fly ball to left-center field that found the glove of Matt Mullin but bounced out, allowing Jordan to score and give the Green Wave a 2-0 advantage. Kennington reached second on the error and then third on a fielderâ€™s choice by Lewis, but Royko struck-out Corey Conner on a breaking ball for the third out to stop the bleeding.
North Lincoln eventually found some life in the bottom of the sixth inning. Stidham led-off with a walk and was followed by a Jake Cochrane single that put runners on first and second. Then Lewisâ€™s pick-off moved started to become his own worst enemy. Lewis was called for a balk that advanced the runners to second and third. Reeder grounded to Ashbrook third baseman Jordan who caught Stidham at the plate trying to score from third. Stidham laid out Ashbrook catcher Kennington as the tag was applied, and ejected from the game.
Zac Wallace followed Reeder with a double down the first base line that brought Cochrane and Reeder across the plate to tie the game 2-2. The North Lincoln run died as quickly as it was born as Wallace was caught trying to steal third and Royko struck out to end the inning.
Ashbrook threatened in the seventh with runners on second and third and only one out, but Royko forced Kennington into a weak ground ball to himself and Lewis flew out to left to end the threat.Â Lewis sat down the Knights in the bottom of the frame to send to game into extras.
North Lincoln sent the senior Cochrane to the bump in the eighth and he made quick work of the Green Wave in a 1-2-3 inning. Lewis recorded two strikeouts in the bottom half of the inning and held the Knights at bay to keep the Green Wave alive.
Ashbrook got a lead-off double from Taylor in the ninth to put the heat on Cochrane and the Knights defense. Cochrane responded by making a diving catch in foul territory when Faulkner popped up a bunt towards the Ashbrook dugout. Jordan followed Faulkner with a fly ball into right that bounced of the glove of North Lincolnâ€™s Jacob Stegall. Taylor scored on the error to give Ashbrook a 3-2 lead. Cochrane took things into his own hands and struck out John Bradshaw and Lewis to end the run.
Lewis returned to the mound in the ninth determined to finish the game. North Lincoln had a chance in the bottom of the ninth when Wallace led off with a sharp single. Lewis then struck out Royko, made the play on sacrifice bunt by David Matousek for the second out, and Justin Norton flew out to center to end the game and give Ashrook the victory.
Lewis earned the win pitching a full nine innings allowing five hits and striking out seven.
â€œI just had good control of all my pitches and I had it going the whole game,â€ Royko said after the game.
â€œI was going to give [Royko] a start today and it actually went longer than I thought because he did so well,â€ said North Lincoln head coach Jon Carpenter. â€œWeâ€™ve got a lot of pitching but we have to make sure our defense backs up our pitching.â€
Jordan led the attack for Ashbrook going three-for-four, reaching base in all four at-bats, scoring a run and knocking in the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth.
Cochran and Wallace had two hits apiece for the Knights.
North Lincoln returns to conference play on Tuesday as they travel to East Lincoln. Ashbrook travels to Crest on Tuesday.