DENVER — The East Lincoln Mustangs varsity baseball team added one more exclamation point to their meteoric run through the Southern Piedmont Conference with an 8-3 win over the West Lincoln Rebels in the championship game of the conference tournament on Saturday.
The game was the fourth meeting between the Southern Piedmont Conference’s top two teams this season. East Lincoln won both regular-season meetings, while West Lincoln took an extra-innings win in the quarterfinals of the Shelby Easter Tournament.
The Rebels jumped onto the scoreboard in the top of the first inning on Saturday. Leadoff batter Brett Huff hit a ground ball off of East Lincoln pitcher Garrett Young through the gap on the left side of the field for a single, and then stole second base on a wild pitch during Dalton Towery’s at-bat. Cameron High, in the designated hitter slot for the game, crushed and RBI double that bounced just in front of the left field fence to give the Rebels a 1-0 lead.
The Rebels sent D.J. Dellinger to the mound in the bottom of the first, and the right-hander relied on his defense for all three outs in the inning. Leadoff batter Clay Hodges grounded out to first base, Jake Helms hit a grounder back to Dellinger and, after Charlie Goss drew a walk, Addison Parrish hit a pop fly that Dellinger fielded to end the inning.
The Mustangs retired West Lincoln in order in the top of the second. Grayson Carroll popped out to Goss at the backstop, Young picked up his first strikeout of the night against West Lincoln catcher Derrick Braun and first baseman Houston Gilmore hit a long fly ball to left field that Cory Peterson caught at the warning track.
East Lincoln took the lead, which they didn’t relinquish, in the bottom of the second.
Third baseman Danny Sullivan smashed a double to the center field warning track on the second pitch from Dellinger and second baseman Cam Carter drew a walk to put runners at first and second. Designated hitter Zac Rust dribbled a bunt down the third baseline and was able to reach first base safely to load the bases.
Jones hit a ground ball down the third baseline and Sullivan was called safe at home after a play at the plate. Hodges grounded out to third base but Rust was able to score, giving the Mustangs a 2-1 lead. Helms hit a grounder to first base that was misplayed by the Rebels, allowing him to reach first safely and bringing another run across home plate. West Lincoln’s Gilmore’s throw from first to home to try to catch the second runner went wide of Braun’s glove, and the Mustangs solidified a 4-1 lead.
“We came out aggressively,” East Lincoln head coach Chris Matile said. “You get into these games and sometimes you question what’s out there for us. We talked about this as an opportunity for us to get better in the last game before the playoffs start. We know what’s ahead of us there, its one-and-done, so you have to be exact at what you do.”
The Rebels made it a short-lived one-run ballgame in the bottom of the third after Towery blasted a two-run home run that threaded the third baseline and passed over the corner of the left-field fence to make it a 4-3 game.
East Lincoln responded in the bottom of the third when Rust hit an RBI double down the left field line to give the Mustangs a 5-3 advantage. The Mustangs added one more run in the bottom of the fifth, and two runs in the bottom of the sixth.
Peterson led off the sixth inning with a single and Hodges was hit by a pitch to put runners at first and second.
Peterson and Hodges executed a double steal during Goss’s at-bat, and Peterson crossed home when Goss grounded out to short stop. Hodges scored for the Mustangs on a wild pitch for the final score differential.
Matile said he feels the win gave the team good momentum headed into the playoffs.
“We had a good approach, our kids had good energy and we executed,” he said. “When they scored we answered. Those are the kinds of things a playoff team has to do. We know what type of ballclub we have, and if we can put all of the aspects of the game together we’re a tough team to beat.”