Oxford Hills’ Janek Luksza lands on first base too late as Edward Little’s Ben Cassidy tags the base during Monday’s baseball game in Paris. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)
PARIS — Two of the top baseball teams in Class A North, Edward Little and Oxford Hills, made a strong case Monday that the battle for playoff position can be as compelling as the playoffs themselves.
The Vikings won this round, 3-2, thanks to the bottom of their batting order, outstanding defense and a gritty performance from their ace, Colton Carson.
No. 9 hitter Jonny Pruett doubled in the go-ahead run and scored what proved to be the winning run in the fifth inning.
Carson went the distance on the mound, stranding seven EL baserunners while outdueling EL’s Ben Cassidy, who was outstanding in his own right.
“You’ve just got to buckle down,” said Carson, who scattered seven hits, two walks and a hit batsmen while striking out four. “You’ve just got to dig deep and trust your defense behind you.”
Each team scored a runner from third on a passed ball to enter the fifth tied 1-1. Cassidy (six innings, four hits, two strikeouts, three walks) went into the inning without having allowed a hit before Wyatt Williamson found the gap in right-center for a one-out double.
With two out, Pruett put the Vikings (11-2) in front with a shot over the left fielder’s head.
“I was just looking to come up clutch, I guess,” Pruett said. “That’s my first time doing something like that, so it’s pretty big.”
Cameron Slicer followed with a looper that eluded the diving left fielder and scored Pruett.
“(Cassidy) pitched a pretty good game. We just started hitting the ball a little bit better,” Oxford Hills coach Shane Slicer said. “He kept us off-balance. I think we were looking for his curve ball more at the end of the game because he was throwing 2-0 curve balls to keep us off-balance. We were fortunate to string it together.”
“(Cassidy) hit his spots well, mixed up some different pitches, and I thought we played pretty well behind him,” EL coach Dave Jordan said. “It was a well-played game. They just came up with a few more hits in situations than we did.”
The Red Eddies (12-2) quickly put the pressure back on Carson with Maxx Bell’s single to start the sixth. Bell advanced to third on a single to left by Giles Pardie (two hits), but Paradie was gunned down trying to take second on the play by Pruett after he took the unsuccessful throw at third to try to get Bell.
“Everyone was screaming, ‘Two.’ I looked over and he was pretty far off the (first base) bag so I just tried to get him,” Pruett said.
“The defense was definitely solid behind me,” Carson said. “That gave me the confidence to throw strikes.”
Bell scored on Christian Beliveau’s ground out to make it 3-2. A tiring Carson beaned the next batter, Ethan Brown, but that was EL’s last baserunner. Carson got a called third strike to end the sixth.
Rapidly approaching the 110-pitch limit, Carson set the Eddies down in order in the seventh, thanks in part to shortstop Janek Luksza, who ranged far to his left to field Austin Brown’s leadoff grounder and throw him out at first by half-a-step.
“We needed that play to keep Colton in there,” Shane Slicer said. “(The final out) was his last batter. He pitched well. I liked the way he worked low with the umpire having a low strike zone. They’re a good hitting team and he came at them.”
Oxford Hills’ Cameron Slicer runs back to first base as Edward Little’s Grant Hartley waits for the ball during Monday’s baseball game in Paris. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)
Edward Little’s Austin Brown runs to first base as Oxford Hills’ Ashton Kennison catches the ball during Monday afternoon’s baseball game in Paris. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)