WENONA – Fieldcrest had to deal with El Paso-Gridley ace Nathan Lavender for five and a third innings on April 25. That is no easy task.
The Knights did get a pair of runs off the hard-throwing southpaw, but the Titans scored in the top of the seventh for a 3-2 Heart of Illinois Conference win at the middle school.
Lavender, who has committed to the University of Illinois, got to 92 pitches with one out in the sixth when he was lifted. His fastball has registered in 90 to 91 miles per hour range.
“Our kids do not see that on a nightly basis,” commented Fieldcrest coach Mark Brown on that sort of velocity on the high school level. “That’s intimidating for our kids. The kids stayed with the game plan. They laid off the high pitch.”
Lavender fanned 15 Knights’ batters, including each of the nine hitters at least once. He allowed three hits, one earned run and issued three walks.
EP-G (11-9, 6-5) held a 2-1 lead going into the bottom of the sixth when Michael Morse hit an opposite field home run to right to knot up the score.
“Last year, he owned us and our kids were so far behind it,” said Brown of the Lavender heater, as Fieldcrest was blanked 12-0 in a 10-run rule contest. “To have somebody touch him was huge. They were relived they could.”
Fieldcrest (7-10, 5-6) had a chance to take the lead in the sixth, as they attempted to use a force balk play where the baserunner intentionally leaves early and tries to stay in a proverbial hot box long enough to score the runner from third. EP-G’s Kyler Edelman calmly stepped off the pitching rubber and tagged Ryan Naas before the runner at third, Matt Cook, could touch home plate. Had M. Cook scored before the tag was applied, the run would have counted.
“Unfortunately, we just have not had time to work on it,” Brown said. “As far as going earlier in the count, maybe, but also giving him (Cook) a chance to drive him in. If we stay in the rundown long enough, we score.”
The Titans grabbed the advantage in the top of the seventh. Kevin Greene led off with a double to center and he scored on a two-bagger to right center from Brock Starkey.
The Knights got the tying run to third with two outs in the seventh, but Edelman got pinch hitter Bryce Nordstrom to fly out to deep right.
Derek May (2-4) allowed three runs, two earned, on nine hits. He walked one, which was intentional, and struck out five. He wiggled out of a jam in the second that saw Fieldcrest commit three errors, but only one run scored.
“If they score three or four, I do not know,” said Brown in terms of staging a comeback. “I do not want to count out our kids, but with Lavender…
“That was the point where Derek took us on his back. We knew runs would be at a premium. He gutted it out. He pitched his heart out. He stayed the course. He did exactly what we needed.”
Starkey drove in the Titans’ first run in the top of the first on a sacrifice fly to right to score Greene, who led off the game with a triple.
May scored the hosts’ first run in the fourth. He drew a leadoff walk, went to second on a wild pitch, stole third and scored on an overthrow.