PARIS — Whoever said in baseball momentum is only as good as the next day’s starter certainly didn’t have Dalton Rice in mind.
Rice proved the adage in the course of a little more than 24 hours. Yanked in the first inning of his start on Tuesday due to wildness, he returned to the mound on Wednesday and stymied Edward Little.
The Oxford Hills freshman limited EL to three hits while tossing a complete game to keep the Vikings’ fading playoff hopes alive in a 2-1 victory.
“Mostly I stuck to my fastball. My curve wasn’t breaking great, so I kept the fastball outside and hoped they wouldn’t hit it far,” said Rice, who gave up four walks and two runs to earn the quick hook on Tuesday. “We have to win the next couple of games to get into the playoffs, so this is huge. I knew the intensity was high.”
“He pitched well. We needed that,” Oxford Hills coach Shane Slicer said. “He mixed (the curve) in enough so they couldn’t sit on his fastball. He had a little pop on (the fastball). He’s just a little kid. After the first inning, he started getting the curve over and then he used it pretty well.”
Rice struck out four, walked four and hit a batter. He had just one perfect inning, the fifth, but the Vikings played flawless defense behind him.
He stranded two runners in the first, rendered a leadoff single harmless in the second and made up for a one out walk in the third by alertly catching the runner breaking for second prematurely and starting a 1-3-6-4 rundown.
The key inning, though, was the fourth. Rice gave up a leadoff single to Nate Blais, who promptly stole second and moved to third on Luke Farrago’s ground out. Corey Mulholland hit a fly ball to shallow right field, high enough for Ben Bowie to camp underneath and position himself for a strong throw home. Blais tagged and bluffed, but held at third and was stranded there after a walk and a ground out to first.
“It wasn’t really a gamble to take,” EL coach Scott Annear said. “I said to draw a throw because you never know what’s going to happen. He threw a great throw. I don’t second-guess that decision.”
“I knew I had to dig through it, tough it out and try to get through that inning,” Rice said. “Our right fielder has a great arm. I have a lot of faith in him.”
Blais went the distance for the Eddies (6-5), allowing just two hits and one earned run while fanning 10, walking three and beaning a pair. Early wildness cost him, as Brandon Campbell drew a leadoff walk in the second, moved to second and third on wild pitches, and scored on Jordan Croteau’s ground out to shortstop.
Two walks and an error put runners at first and third with two out in the third for the Vikings (6-7). The runner at first, Nick Ryan, took off for second and Dylan Cox found the hole left open by the shortstop breaking to cover the bag. That scored Tyler Martin from third make it 2-0. Blais shut down the Vikings after that.
“We just didn’t make that many mistakes,” Slicer said. “We didn’t hit the ball well. Blais threw great. We couldn’t pick up his ‘deuce’ (curve). We were chasing everything. I was hoping that he would continue to be wild after the second inning, but he settled in pretty well.”
“It was quite a pitchers’ duel. They just have our number,” Annear said. “Their scrappy. They pay attention to details and they stick to their game plan.”
EL finally got on the board in the sixth as Blais (two hits) belted a one-out triple to left and scored on Farrago’s sacrifice fly to center. Pinch-hitter Brian Bickford started the seventh in promising fashion with a walk to put the tying run on. But Rice got the next three pinch-hitters on a strikeout looking, a pop-up to third and grounder to third to end it and earn a post-game Gatorade (water, actually) shower from his teammates.
“We’ve had three games just like this and lost them — Brunswick (in the) seventh inning, Cony (Tuesday), seventh inning, Erskine, seventh inning,” Slicer said. “So it was nice to get one of them.”