RENO — After getting crushed twice in shortened games by the Manogue Miners during the regular season, nobody gave Carson High much of a chance to win its playoff opener.
The Senators, thanks to a two-run homer by Luke Maher and a strong pitching performance by Chase Blueberg, made the Miners sweat before falling 3-2 Tuesday afternoon. Carson moves into the loser’s bracket of the Division I postseason tournament.
Carson will play an elimination game at 4 p.m. today at Galena. The Grizzlies lost 13-3 in six innings against Damonte Ranch.
“We played very well,” Carson coach Bryan Manoukian said. “We shored up our defense and made the routine plays. We made one of their best players beat us. Chase pitched a good game. We lost our offensive intensity after we scored in the first inning. We had a leadoff in the third and we didn’t take advantage of it. That would have put us up 3-0. We made them earn their victory.”
“I definitely expected this type of game and so did my players,” Manogue coach Charles Oppio said. “This is playoff baseball, and it’s totally different from the regular season.”
Manogue’s Kyle Pruneau quickly retired Carson’s first two hitters, and then Jace Zampirro kept the inning alive with a bloop single to right. Maher then drilled a fastball well over the wall in left to give the Senators a quick 2-0 lead.
“It was a fastball,” Maher said. “The first pitch was a curveball in the dirt and then he threw a fastball.”
Blueberg wiggled out of jams in the first two innings.
In the first, Manogue put runners at first and second with no outs, but Pruneau grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. With Kyle Lewis on third, Blueberg fanned Devonte German on a breaking ball to end the threat. In the second, a walk to Harrison Shawa and a double by Pat Hinojosa put runners at second and third with no outs. With one out, Conner Nelson hit a ball sharply back to the box which Blueberg converted into an out while holding the runners. Anthony Damonte walked to load the bases, but Kyle Lewis left the bases juiced by grounding out. The ball hit by Hinojosa should have been caught, but left fielder Danny Guthrie misjudged the ball and it sailed over his head.
Gehrig Tucker led off the third with a double to right. Pruneau, who finished with a 5-hitter, retired TJ Thomsen, Zampirro and Maher to end the inning. After Tucker’s double, Pruneau retired 14 of the last 17 batters he faced. Carson didn’t get a runner past first base in the last four innings.
“He came up big, especially on four days of rest,” Oppio said. “He wanted the ball today and he did a great job.”
The Miners closed the deficit to 2-1 in the fourth when Shawa walked, moved to second on a single by Hinojosa, to third on a sacrifice bunt by Howard and scored on a single to left by No. 9 hitter Anthony Damonte.
In the fifth, Shawa walked. German, who was 0-for-2 at that point, fell behind 1-2. Blueberg threw a curveball down around the shins, and German went down and got it. The 6-foot-5 lefty ripped a bullet over the fence in right to put the Miners ahead to stay, 3-2.
“It wasn’t a bad pitch,” Manoukian said. “It was down and in, but Devonte is a real good hitter and he went down and got it.”
“You have to tip your cap to him,” Blueberg said. “It was no higher than his shin, and he got it. Give him credit.”
Blueberg pitched German backward the entire game, throwing all sorts of junk at the slugger. In fact, he pitched many of the Miners that way.
“The last few times we faced them, they tore us up,” Blueberg said. “We talked about it, and we tried to change things up.”
German wasn’t surprised by the strategy.
“It’s the way teams have been pitching me all season,” German said. “I didn’t see a fastball today. It was all curves and a knuckleball.”
NOTES: Zak Harjes had two of Carson’s five hits on the day ... Manoukian said he was undecided on today’s starter. It basically comes down to either Zampirro or Charlie Banfield.