PIERCE — After getting just one hit through three innings, the Pierce Juniors' bats heated up in the fourth and fifth en route to a 7-1 victory over Crofton in the championship game of the C1 district at the Pierce baseball facility.
“We played well in the tournament,” Pierce coach Brian West said. “There were times towards the end of the year, we weren't playing very well, but it was nice to see the kids get pumped up with the attitude to win it.”
Hurlers Seth Valverde of Pierce and Peyton Wieseler of Crofton engaged in a pitcher’s duel for the first three innings, but both sides had chances to score in the first.
In the top half, Pierce's Logan Moeller got a base hit and stole second. He then strayed too far off the bag and was caught in a rundown between second and third. That was 1-6-5-4-1-6 if you were scoring at home.
Crofton then had runners on first and third with two outs in the bottom of the first when Owen Sudbeck drove a Valverde pitch to right field, but Pierce right fielder Taner Kuper made an impressive catch near the foul line to retire the side.
Crofton coach Ben Hegge said he felt good about his starting pitcher.
“Peyton has been our dog on the mound all year,” he said. “We asked a lot from him.”
Pierce finally broke through in the top of the fourth. Moeller and Dylan Svoboda both had base hits and Michael Kruntorad reached on an error to load the bases with nobody out.
Valverde and Reid West both walked to force in two runs. Then Tristan Miller grounded to second, leading to a forceout. But Kruntorad scored from third, but so did Valverde, with some heads-up base running, from second.
West said he had his hitters taking pitches early counts.
“I knew they only had their one and two pitcher in my book, so I wanted to get their pitch count up in case it had to go two games,” he said. “And I knew that once (Wieseler) got up in the upper pitch count that he'd struggle a little bit and he did.”
The hosts added three more runs in the fifth. Kruntorad doubled to drive in two runs, then scored on a Reid West single.
Meanwhile, Valverde kept Crofton off the board until the fifth when Austin Tramp scored all the way from first on a Wieseler double.
Valverde didn't overpower the Crofton hitters, but he did an outstanding job of throwing strikes. “I've been telling him all year, it's real important to get ahead in the count, because a lot of teams with this new pitch-count rule take strikes and try to do exactly what we just did,” he said. “So, we try to get up in the count so they swing at bad pitches and we can get outs that way.”
Crofton out-hit Pierce 8 to 6, but the hosts played error-free defense while Crofton committed four miscues.
“Baseball's a funny game,” Hegge said. “Sometimes you get breaks, sometimes you don't. There's a few plays that I think they made and we didn't. They got a couple of breaks. But, at the end of the day, we don't have anything to hang our heads about.”
The win earned Pierce a berth in the state tournament, which starts Saturday in DeWitt. Pierce will open at 2 p.m. against C3 champion (Malcolm or Louisville-Weeping Water).
“We're 9-7 now, but these kids play senior ball, too,” West said. “I've only got three seniors. So, we play doubleheaders every night and the senior record is 9-6, so they actually have a better record than what it shows. We'll just practice for two days, go down there and give it our best shot.”
C1 Final at Pierce
Pierce (9-7) 000 430 0 — 7 6 0
Crofton (11-9-1) 000 010 0 — 1 8 4
WP: Seth Valverde LP: Peyton Wiesler 2B: (P) Michael Kruntorad, © William Poppe, Wieseler