By RYAN HERMAN
CLAREMONT –– Bunker Hill used power to put East Lincoln on its heels, then used perseverance to put the Mustangs in second.
Jordan Eckard’s three-run homer chased Alec Burleson after four-plus stellar innings, and Cameron Chapman’s walk-off chopper chased the Mustangs Friday as the Bears took the Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference battle for first, 5-4.
Bunker Hill (13-2, 9-1) needed everything it had to knock off East Lincoln (8-8, 8-2), from Eckard’s homer to four different pitchers, to robbing a home run and using a little small ball in the final frame that led to Chapman’s heroics.
For longtime Bears coach Marty Curtis, that’s how the game should be played.
“I just call it baseball,” he said.
Burleson, and his counterpart, Clay Ervin, put on a show of southpaw brilliance for four innings.
Neither team had a hit through three, and East Lincoln’s freshman needed only 39 pitches –– 24 for strikes –– to get to the fourth.
But the fifth is where things got dicey for both.
The Mustangs struck first, and Burleson helped his own cause with an RBI single to left that score Chris Tomberlin, who reached on a one-out bunt for their first hit. Ervin hit Austin Buchanan and Nate Kinsch to load the bases for their pitcher, who staked himself to a 1-0 lead and sent Ervin to the dugout.
The Bears returned the favor in the home-half.
Hayden McGraw singled for Bunker Hill’s first hit, then Burleson fanned Scottie Martin and Jake Loftin swinging to get back on track.
Facing the top of the Bears’ lineup for a third time, Colton Chapman reached on an infield single and plated McGraw, who was helped by a pair of passed balls. The RBI was followed with a single from Cameron Chapman, and Mustangs coach Chris Matile paid a visit to his freshman ace.
Burleson stayed in, and threw a first-pitch strike to Eckard.
The second pitch, however, landed just beyond the 310-foot fence right field.
“I did (leave him in too long), but you know what, he’s a young man, he’s a freshman, and he’s going to grow from that experience, and I have full confidence in that kid. You can look back at it and say I left him in (too) long, but if he gets that kid out, then you say, ‘Good call,’” East Lincoln coach Chris Matile said.
“Alec’s a battler, he’s a competitor, (and) he wants to be on the mound, and I thought he did a great job tonight. One pitch. One pitch that went 275 feet. … But hey, we played on the same field.”
Chris Cox took over for Burleson and retired the first four he faced, which was all the Mustangs needed him to do.
They got two runs back in the sixth on the second of two wild pitches from Cole Ervin and a sac fly from Cox.
Burleson, who went 2-for-3 with a walk, singled with one out in the seventh and scored when Chase Watson’s double ricocheted off a fence post down the right-field line.
The run tied it at 4, but had it not been for some fancy defense a batter earlier by Eckard, things could have been a lot different.
Nick Savoie drove Colton Chapman’s pitch to right-center, where Eckard reached above the fence to haul Savoie’s home run back in for the second out.
The Mustangs caught a break a batter later with the ricochet, but it was that kind of night for Bunker Hill.
“We played extremely well. We didn’t take advantage of some of the opportunities we had offensively, but their pitching did a great job, and their defense made some great plays,” Matile said.
East Lincoln leaned on Cox to get it to extra innings but a lead-off walk was enough for Bunker Hill.
Martin walked to start the half, then Loftin reached on a bunt single that rolled under the outstretched glove of Cox.
Matile then elected for Cox to intentionally walk Colton Chapman to load the bases, and Cox ran the count full to Cameron Chapman
With nowhere to put him, Cox had no choice but to throw Chapman a fastball in the zone.
Chapman had no choice but to swing.
“We’re going to play baseball. If the situation calls for a bunt, we’re going to bunt. … I thought about bunting Chapman there in the seventh inning, but, I just couldn’t take the bat out of my best hitter’s hands. Fortunately it worked out for us,” Curtis said.
Bunker Hill won its 11th straight game, and hasn’t lost since Maiden downed it 5-2 in the conference opener on March 11.
Three games later the Bears beat the Mustangs 6-1 in Denver, which was their only league loss heading into Friday’s contest.
While they pushed Bunker Hill to the brink, they went 2-for-6 with runners in scoring position, and stranded eight.
“The first time we played each other it wasn’t even a contest. That’s how much we’ve grown, from that time to this time, now,” Matile said. “We’ve got to learn, we’ve got to grow, we’ve got to understand that when you get men on second and third, we’ve got to get those guys across the plate. … All year, all we’ve talked about is we’ve got to keep getting better. We’ve got to be better Tuesday night against Newton(-Conover) now. We’ve got to learn from this game and take advantage of those opportunities.”
Both Burleson and Clay Ervin lasted 4 2/3 innings. Burleson, who struck out six, was charged with four runs on five hits, one walk, and one hit batter. Ervin gave up one run on two hits, struck out five, walked three and hit two.
Cox didn’t record an out in the seventh and gave up one run on two hits and a walk in the loss.
Colton Chapman was the pitcher of record for the Bears and he faced one batter, a strikeout of Cason Parrish to end the seventh for East Lincoln.
“I knew we would have to play well,” Curtis said, “and fortunately we ended up with the most on the scoreboard.”
Notes: The loss snapped East Lincoln’s five-game winning streak. … There are four conference games left in SD-7 play for all teams. East Lincoln’s remaining games: Newton-Conover (Tuesday), at West Caldwell (Thursday), at Maiden (April 29), West Lincoln (May 1). Bunker Hill’s remaining games: at Lincolnton (Tuesday), Bandys (Thursday), Newton-Conover (April 29), at West Caldwell (May 1). East Lincoln has a one-game lead on Maiden for second, and a three-game lead on West Caldwell in fourth. … The Mustangs left the bases loaded in the fifth. … Cameron Chapman went 3-for-4 and had the Bears’ only multi-hit game.