Thursday and Friday, the Lamar Savage baseball team looked to keep the winning ways going and finish league play on a high note. And this senior-laden club not only relied on talent, but experience to take two games from their arch rival La Junta, the only team to have beaten the Savages so far this season.
Game 1: #2 Lamar 6, #5 La Junta 2
The first game on Thursday at Merchants Park in Lamar featured a pitching match-up between Lamar’s Dalton Chandler and La Junta’s Dyson Oquist.
After a scoreless first inning, La Junta was able to accomplish something no team had been able to do against Chandler so far this season. They got a base hit. In fact, Dyson’s younger brother Chance led off with a double to left-center that just glanced off the glove of a diving Davin Jacobs. Later in the inning with runners at second and third and one out, Jay Paolucci got a bunt down toward first baseman Colton Eberhardt, who fired home trying to nab the runner coming home. But the throw was high, and both runners scored to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead. Chandler retired the next two hitters to end the frame.
In the bottom of the second, Dyson Oquist recorded a quick out, and then after he fired the second pitch of the following at bat to Chandler, Oquist grimaced in pain and was taken out of the game. Chance Oquist moved from catcher to pitcher and gave up a single to Addison Morales and a walk to Eberhardt but nothing more.
It took until the bottom of the fourth for the Savage offense to break through. Two errors put runners at first and second, and Morales popped a single to right which loaded the bases. Eberhardt came up, and worked his second walk of the night, driving in Jacobs to get Lamar on the board. Next up was designated hitter Sy Spitz who singled to deep short, scoring courtesy runner Jaime Vasquez and the Savages tied the game 2-2 and grabbed the momentum along with it. Austin Sneller grounded into a fielder’s choice, scoring Morales and Lamar took the lead, 3-2.
The lineup turned over, and Lucas Watson drew a walk on a ten-pitch at bat to load the bases again. Max Carere, the Savage leader in hits this season, came through with a two-run single to right and a third run scored on the play thanks to an error in the outfield. All of a sudden, the Savages led 6-2.
Chandler worked around a pair of walks and a hit batter and did not allow another hit the rest of the way. He struck out the side in the sixth and seventh innings to capture the complete game victory.
It was another sterling performance for the hard-throwing right-hander who didn’t just relay on his 90+ mph fastball. He used his curveball to great effect, freezing multiple hitters, to go with the heat. Chandler struck out 14 to raise his season strikeout total to 69 in 28 2/3 innings.
The win also clinched the outright Tri-Peaks Eastern Division championship for the Savages.
Game 2: #2 Lamar 8, #5 La Junta 1
On Friday evening at Potter Park, the Savages got off to a quick start against Tiger righty Ty Addington, who had shut out the Savages for five innings in La Junta’s 5-4 in the Hampton Inn Classic championship game on March 24. And it was important for Lamar to get runs on the board early against Addington, not just because of well he pitched against them last month, but also because the Tigers were stretched very thin with their pitching staff. An elbow injury to Dyson Oquist sustained the night before plus an injury to Jon Nuschy in the week prior severely depleted the number of options the Tigers had. Nuschy had not been cleared to do anything other than hit, and Oquist was only used as a courtesy runner on Friday.
The Tiger defense, which crumbled in the fourth inning on Thursday, helped the Savages to strike first in the opening inning. With two runners on, Addington struck out Andres Guevara, but the third strike was dropped by catcher Matthew Espinoza who still had a good chance to throw Guevara out at first. But Espinoza air-mailed the throw allowing Watson and Carere to come home and Lamar led 2-0. Later with runners at the corners, the Savages caught the Tigers sleeping as Guevara stole home to make it 3-0. With Eberhardt at the plate, Morales broke for second base and the throw bounced into center field allowing Chandler to score the fourth run of the inning.
Eberhardt got the start on the mound, and faced the minimum in the first as Guevara threw out Nuschy, who attempted to steal second base, to end the frame. From that point on however, Eberhardt had to deal with traffic and pitch out of trouble. But if anyone has mastered the art of pitching with runners on base and the opponent threatening to bust the door open, it’s been Eberhardt throughout his career.
Colton worked around a pair of singles in the second by striking out the side. In the third, he came up to bat with two men on and two outs and quickly fell behind Addington 0-2 in the count. But Eberhardt came back and crushed a 1-2 fastball over the left field fence for his third home run of the season and the Savages took a 7-0 lead.
La Junta loaded the bases with two outs in the third, as Eberhardt walked three hitters. But he induced a ground-out from Diego Haun to end the threat.
In the fourth, the Tigers loaded the bases with one out and the top of the order coming up. Surely, La Junta would find away to break through. Once again, Eberhardt was up for the challenge, striking out Ryan Malden and Espinoza.
Lamar tacked on to the lead in the fifth as Guevara reached on an error and his courtesy runner Isaiah LaTour came home thanks to a single to left by Chandler. It was 8-0 and the air had been sucked out of Potter Park on the La Junta side.
But to the Tigers’ credit, they kept coming. With two on in the fifth, Addington reached on an error, scoring Nuschy to make it 8-1. Another error loaded the bases with one out and Eberhardt had reached the pitch count limit. He traded places with fellow senior Lucas Watson, who promptly got a strikeout and a ground-out to end the inning.
Watson pounded the strike zone in the final two innings and no Tiger reached second base against him, and the Savages completed the league sweep of Tigers, taking a 2-1 lead in the season series against their rival. Lamar has won ten consecutive games, going unbeaten in the month of April.
Lamar (17-1 overall, 8-0 TPL-East) now awaits the pairings to be released for the Tri-Peaks Crossover Games. The Savages, having captured first place in the East, will play the West winner on the road. Play in the West division has not completed yet, but Buena Vista (12-3 overall, 6-1 TPL-West) has secured the outright division title with still one game to go. Once that has been completed, the match-ups will be officially announced.