By RYAN HERMAN
DENVER –– Baseball may be a game of unknowns, but East Lincoln coach Chris Matile knows how good his team can be.
The Mustangs showed it with first place on the line.
Nick Savoie drove in three runs, Alec Burleson was once again brilliant on the mound and East Lincoln scored eight runs in the fifth inning to beat Maiden 11-1 by the 10-run rule on Friday and end its solo reign atop the Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference.
The win dropped the Blue Devils (6-3, 5-1) into a three-way tie for first with the Mustangs (5-7, 5-1) and Bunker Hill (8-2, 5-1).
Maiden and the Bears play later this week.
“As a coach you always stay steady. You always feel good about your team, you always feel like you have a chance,” Matile said.
“When you play to your potential these are the things that happen.”
What happened was East Lincoln did just about everything right, while Maiden didn’t do much right at all.
The Mustangs chased Blue Devils starter Tyger McRee after two batters in the home-half of the fifth, and scored eight runs off three different pitchers and on four hits, three walks, two errors and a wild pitch.
Savoie, who went 4-for-4 and scored a run, tripled to start the outburst and, as the 10th batter of the inning, laced a 1-0 fastball back up the middle that scored two.
Cody Herman drove in a run with a perfectly placed squeeze bunt to go up 4-1, and reliever Aaron Rudisill hit Nate Kinsch with the bases loaded.
Casen Parrish singled in a run, and two runs scored on errors.
After a wild pitch plated Austin Buchanan, Savoie became the runner that could end this one in the fifth. Chase Watson singled, but the ball hit Savoie on the foot for the second out.
Rudisill struck out Parrish to end the inning, merely delaying the inevitable.
“We seen a good ball team, there’s no denying that. We knew we couldn’t just show up and win. We weren’t ready mentally,” Maiden coach David Williams said. “Once we made a mistake it’s like we harped on it, and we just couldn’t recover. Against a good ball team like East Lincoln, it’s tough to come back from many mistakes. We probably had seven or eight mental mistakes, and you just can’t recover from that against a good ball team.”
Both starters, McRee for Maiden and the freshman left-hander Burleson for the Mustangs –– got through a somewhat shaky first inning, but Burleson was the only one who recovered.
After both starters gave up one earned run on two hits in the first, Burleson retired 12 of the next 13 he faced –– 10 straight at one point –– and held the Blue Devils to three singles.
Kyle Kelly drove in Maiden’s lone run after Rudisill led off the game with a hit, but it didn’t get another until Dalton Hefner’s base knock with one out in the sixth and down 10-1.
The top third of the Blue Devils’ order (Rudisill, Hefner and Kelly) had a hit each while the bottom two-thirds went a combined 0-for-12. The only one to reach was Poovey, hitting in the 8-spot, who walked in the second.
Burleson (3-0) struck out four.
“He’s a great presence on the mound (and) lets his defense play ball,” said Matile, whose team played error free in the field, even in rain-soaked conditions from the third inning on. “He threw good pitches, and did an outstanding job managing the game once again. I couldn’t be happier with him.”
Buchanan doubled to start East Lincoln’s portion of the first, and scored on Savoie’s single to tie it at 1. Watson reached on an error in the third on McRee’s bad throw to first, and scored Kinsch, who singled, from third.
East Lincoln got the game-ender in the sixth it was searching for on Chris Cox’s pinch-hit, one-out single that scored Blake Strupp. Strupp was hit by a pitch to reach, then stole second and took third on a wild pitch from Bryce Bratton, effective ending Maiden’s six-game winning streak and denying it its first 7-2 start in at least 17 years, according to records kept and shared by the Hickory Daily Record, which begin in 1998.
“Maybe this is the best thing for us –– getting punched in the mouth and getting knocked down,” Williams said. “We can learn a lot from this. We have a lot to look back on. I definitely think it’s one of those things that could make us better.”
Kinsch went 2-for-3 and scored twice and Buchanan went 1-for-3 and scored twice as East Lincoln put up 11 runs on 11 hits, with all but one being earned.
It has now won three straight league games since losing to Bunker Hill, 6-1, on March 20, and has county rival West Lincoln in Vale on Tuesday.
“We’re a young team, and just the things we’ve been driving home I think they’re starting to believe in each other, believe in the system, and they’re playing good baseball right now,” Matile said. “You never know how it’s going to pan out, and we didn’t know much about (Maiden). … They’ve worked together, they worked all summer, and these are the outcomes that happen.
“When you put the time in and you believe in yourself this is what can happen for you.”