AUBURN — In the American Legion baseball playoffs, pitch counts are everything.
Rogers Post used one of its top pitchers, Damien St. Pierre, in relief in the fourth inning, throwing 17 pitches with a one-run lead over the Capitals in the first round of the Zone 2 playoffs. In the bottom of the inning, Rogers scored a run on a Gavin Bates single, which was followed by a three-run home run by Giles Paradie to give Rogers a five-run lead, one it wouldn’t look back on in 15-4 win in six innings.
“It was one of those situations where we were trying to figure out pitch counts and if we had to ride Damien to get by this round,” Rogers Post coach Dave Jordan said. “That home run gave us just enough of a cushion where we were able to see what we could do with some other guys. Being able to do that and then end the game and not have to play the last half-inning was huge for us.”
In the top of the third inning, after both the Capitals and Rogers had combined for just two hits, Cole Lawrence drove a double into right field, followed by singles from Gus Hunt and Chandler Moore. Next up was Isaac Eastler, who hit a two-RBI double to give the Capitals an early lead. Adam Eastler hit a single next and later scored on a passed ball from Rogers pitcher Ben Cassidy, followed by a single from Garrett Lunt that drove in Isaac Eastler.
Rogers faced an early four-run deficit, so the hosts turned to small ball to get some base runners in the bottom of the third. The first three batters reached base on bunts, the third from Oren Shaw that scored Cassidy. Tyler Blanchard was next, slapping a single to center that scored another run. Mason Brushwein smacked a double to right-center that scored two to tie it at four. Later in the inning, Tim Albert reached base on an error that also scored Brushwein to take a 5-4 lead.
“We maybe didn’t have our big bats in the lineup today in terms of power, but we had a lot of guys who had some speed and knew how to execute. We needed a spark and a change in momentum,” Jordan said.
St. Pierre was sent in after Cassidy’s three innings of four-run ball, but as a possible starter for Saturday’s matchup with Bessey Motors, Jordan wanted to keep his pitches low. Paradie knew that St. Pierre would keep Rogers afloat long enough to get some more insurance runs.
“Once we realized that we had it I felt the momentum shift,” Paradie said. “Once we got it we just had to hold it. He got us a good amount of outs and then he took the ball and secured it.”
St. Pierre threw just 30 pitches in his two innings of work, leaving him eligible to pitch Saturday. Paradie’s home run in the fourth was the relief Rogers really needed.
“I was going up and wanting to hit,” Paradie said. “I was just telling myself, ‘Hit a line drive, hit a line drive.’ (Former Rogers player) Mickey Lawrence actually told me, ‘If you focus on hitting line drives then eventually it will just go,’ and I guess this one just went. I didn’t expect it and then I hit it and saw it. … It felt great, phenomenal.”
Albert entered the game in the top of the sixth with a five-run lead and quickly loaded the bases on three singles. He was able to strike out the next two batters and got Moore to fly out to right field to get out of the jam.
Brushwein walked and Bates doubled to start the sixth, followed by an intentional walk of Paradie. St. Pierre drove in a run with a single, followed by another run on a walk. The sixth was capped off by Blanchard’s long drive to right-center which bounced over the fence for a ground-rule double to end the game.
Rogers Post knows its entering a second-round matchup with Bessey Motors at a disadvantage. Bessey didn’t play Friday when Franklin County forfeited the other scheduled first-round matchup (due to lack of players), but Rogers Post is entering Saturday confidently.
“We know Bessey well,” Jordan said. “They are well-rested and have everyone available, so we are going to go up there and go play and compete. I love how our guys are competing right now and whoever we have available is who we’ll take and go give it our best shot.”