RENO - The Wooster Colts may not have made the NIAA Northern 4A regional baseball playoffs this year, but the team brought a playoff-like intensity to Wednesday's league game against the Carson Senators.
The Senators, who are tied with Damonte Ranch for third place in the Sierra League and have already clinched a zone berth, came together as a team and overcame the left arm of Colts pitcher Jordan Lewis to grind out a 1-0 victory at Wooster High School.
"That's the MO of the Wooster team - they don't give in to anybody," said Carson coach Steve Cook, whose team improved to 13-6 in league play and 23-12 overall. "There was no free anything. They're well-coached, well-disciplined and that kid (Lewis) on the hill today dealt."
Lewis, a junior, fell to 3-3 on the year but stuck out seven batters for the Colts, now 8-11 in league and 13-16 overall. He spread out seven hits, two walks and allowed the only run in the seventh inning on a sacrifice fly by junior right fielder Matt Rutledge.
Carson seniors Stehen Sawyers and David Eller (5-1) combined for the four-hit shutout.
Facing a persistent, strong wind blowing in, the two teams mirrored one another. Both played small ball, had strong pitching and good defense behind them. In a game that looked all along that it would go to the first team to make a mistake, it was the Senators who overcame four baserunning errors to push across the winning run.
Sawyers, battling an injury in his (left) pitching elbow all season, made it into the fifth inning before he clutched his arm in pain prior to surrendering his second walk of the frame, this one to sophomore shortstop Colton Sims with one out and putting Jeremy Nakoa on second.
After Cook visited him on the mound, the gritty Sawyers elected to stay in the game and forced sophomore Raul Gonzalez to ground into a comebacker and caught Sims off first base for the force out.
All but one of Sawyers' outs stayed in the infield and third baseman Kyle Stone, shortstop Markus Adams, second baseman Brett Valley and first baseman Rob Valerius had his back.
Sawyers pitched a scoreless five-plus innings, allowing three hits, four walks and hit one batter with a pitch. He walked senior Spencer Lewis to lead off the sixth before Eller came in to relieve him.
"This was the first time I've thrown more than 40 pitches in a game all year," said Sawyers, who in spite of the pain thinks he'll be available to play whenever he's needed. "I've been doing physical therapy. I've progressed about 80 percent."
If the hero-of-the-game mask was first passed around the infield and then to Sawyers, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Eller got to wear it, too, allowing one hit in two innings. Whereas Sawyers had his fastball and curve working for him, Eller went straight power, staying with his own fastball.
Wooster, which lost a chance at scoring when Spencer Lewis hit into a double play in the third and when Gonzalez hit the comebacker/forceout in the fifth, threatened again in the sixth.
Though Spencer Lewis was forced out at second, Victor Mendoza reached first on a fielder's choice. Then Adams bobbled a throw to first and Bobby Patton reached on his error to give the Colts two runners with one out.
Colts catcher Andrew Galindo singled to right and Mendoza raced around third base toward home.
But it was time for the hero mask to go to Rutledge, who fired a rocket from right to catcher Paul Cagle, who looked like a noseguard as he blocked the plate and tagged out Mendoza for the second out.
"I was hoping they hit it to me," said Rutledge, who is also a pitcher. "The last couple of weeks they've been testing me out. I've thrown more strikes from the outfield than pitching. Paul did a nice job of blocking the plate."
Eller caught Galindo off the bag and threw it to Valley, who in turn tossed it back to Valerius, who made the tag for the third out.
After DH Cody Barr (2-for-3) grounded out to short, Valerius (1-for-2) drew a walk and the hero's mask was passed to pinch runner Drew Good, who promptly stole second. Left fielder Dustin Buttner singled to right, advancing Good to third. Buttner stole second before Rutledge hit his game-winning sacrifice fly to right as Good raced home to beat the tag.
"Being a pinch runner, you see at least one move - I saw all three of his (Lewis')," Good said. "He had the step-off, where he stepped behind the rubber. He lifted - which was two moves. One was quick and he got a few of our (baserunners). The last one was a slow off-lift. I read it and saw it going to the plate. Rut came through with a deep enough fly ball for me to tag on and go home."
Eller finally grabbed the hero's mask one more time, forcing senior Alex Gonzalez to hit a liner to Valerius, and Nakao to ground out to Adams. Then, for good measure, he struck out Jimmy Williams to preserve the win and keep Carson alive in its drive for the third seed in zone.
"I asked David how he was doing and he gave the thumbs up," Cook said of Eller. "He took the ball and did what he does - throws the ball hard for strikes. His fastball was very good today."
Carson holds the tiebreaker with Damonte Ranch, but can't expect any help from winless Hug, against whom the Mustangs finish the regular season. So it's one game at a time for the Senators, who host Wooster today and Friday at 3:30 p.m.
"That was the epitome of team play right there," Cook said. "Everyone had a little to do with the win today. Our kids have a good attitude now. They're playing team baseball. They're buying in right now."