By RYAN HERMAN
DENVER –– It wasn’t the most perfect display of baseball. But with second place on the line, East Lincoln will take it.
Austin Buchanan went 3-for-3, Nick Savoie pitched a gem and the Mustangs overcame several mental blunders against West Caldwell to down the Warriors 4-0 on Monday and break the tie between the two in the Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference.
A base running mistake and a missed bunt on a suicide squeeze cost East Lincoln (4-7, 4-1) at least two runs. But its lone senior was dialed in on the mound, and the Mustangs made enough plays to win a game that was pushed up a day to beat Tuesday’s nasty weather.
“Any win we can get, we’re just excited about that,” East Lincoln coach Chris Matile said. “We’re just so young, and we’re going to make some mistakes and we know that. … we just needed to respond, and not let it affect the rest of our game.”
Savoie, who earlier this month committed to play for Division II Carson-Newman College, scattered four hits across six innings, struck out six, and pitched into the seventh before being pulled for Chris Cox.
West Caldwell (4-5, 3-2) went 0-for-4 against Savoie with runners in scoring position, and the right-hander worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth unscathed. He allowed the first two to reach in the seventh, but Cox came in and closed the door.
Savoie also ripped a double down the left-field line in the fourth for his team’s first run.
“That’s what we needed out of our senior. We’ve got one senior on the team, and that’s Nick Savoie,” Matile said. “We needed this out of Nick tonight.”
He also needed his younger guys to keep their composure, and they did.
West Caldwell starter Justin Reece hit Chris Tomberlin to begin East Lincoln’s half of the third, and a throwing error allowed Tomberlin to take second.
With Blake Strupp in the batter’s box, Reece turned around to fake a throw to second, but Tomberlin stood still instead of retreating back to the bag. Reece threw, and Tomberlin was later called out after being caught in a 1-6-5 rundown. Strupp struck out, but Tomberlin would have scored on Buchanan’s single a batter later.
Chase Watson, who went 2-for-3, singled home Savoie in the fourth and moved to second on Cason Parrish’s bunt single. Watson then took third on Cody Herman’s sacrifice bunt, and Matile put on the squeeze for Tomberlin. But Tomberlin missed the bunt, and Watson was tagged out at the plate.
Tomberlin never wavered and made up for the mistakes with an RBI push-bunt single in the sixth, and later scored the Mustangs’ final run on a throwing error by the catcher after stealing second and third.
The junior centerfielder’s ability to personally get back the two runs left on the field showed East Lincoln’s ability to fight through anything Monday night.
“The biggest thing I talked to the guys about is responding; don’t get too low, don’t get too high, just stay constant,” Matile said. “That’s what I’m most proud about.”
Savoie hit Tre Harper with an 0-1 fastball to start the seventh, then gave up a single to Jackson Cook after being ahead in the count 0-2 to signal the end of his night. Cox came on and walked Madison Virts to load the bases, but got a pitcher’s best friend in the form of a 1-2-3 double play on a sharply-hit ball off the bat of Ethan Bumgarner.
Dylan West took a ball to start his at-bat, but Cox came back with three straight fastballs to get West swinging and preserve the win.
“He’s only a sophomore, but he’s been doing that since he was a freshman,” Matile said. “He came in and bared down and made the pitches.”
The win followed a 5-4 loss against county rival North Lincoln on Saturday, and was East Lincoln’s third in its last five games since publicly announcing it had to forfeit its first two non-conference wins due to its inadvertent use of an academically-ineligible player.
The Mustangs are still tied for second with Bunker Hill (6-2, 3-1), which had its game with Bandys postponed on Tuesday. They’re scheduled to host league-leading Maiden on Friday, weather permitting.
“I’m seeing kids that are fighting, that are trying to get better, and that’s all we can do,” Maiden said. “I see kids that are motivated to win, but we’ve just got to get on that point where we understand what it takes to win night in and night out, and that’s the whole thing with a young group.”
Notes: West Caldwell committed four errors, two which led to runs. … Buchanan singled three times and had six total bases, but never scored. … East Lincoln junior varsity call-up Nate Kinsch had a sacrifice and reached on a fielder’s choice in his first two at-bats. Parrish went 2-for-3 and scored a run.