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With the Princeton baseball team up by three runs in the sixth inning of Saturday’s game against Fieldcrest at O’Brien Field, the Knights had runners at second and third with two outs.
With Fieldcrest threatening to pull within a run, Hayes delivered a pitch that Knights designated hitter Bill Moline tattooed to right field.
“I was a little worried because I thought it would sail,” Hayes admitted.
All of a sudden, Hayes’ pitching gem rested on Princeton right fielder Tyler Marvin as a fly ball over Marvin’s head would score two runs and allow Moline to run for days with the ball in the spacious outfield.
“My heart really did sink because it was a well-hit ball,” Hayes said.
Fortunately for Princeton and Hayes, Marvin saw the ball all the way as he adjusted and caught the riffle to end the inning and the threat as Princeton held on for a 4-1 victory.
“Thank God Tyler got a good read on the ball,” Hayes joked.
The out was the final one of the game for Hayes, who earned the win after he allowed one earned run on five hits over six innings while pitching at the home of the Peoria Chiefs, whom both Princeton and Fieldcrest watched fall 11-2 to the Cedar Rapids Kernels before the non-conference game.
“Matt is coming along so nicely,” PHS coach Tim Taylor said. “He threw the most pitches he’s thrown all season, and he looked good doing it. He’s getting the strike zone tighter all the time. His speed looked pretty consistent and his curveball has been good, so he’s really honing in. He did a real nice job.”
Hayes and reliever Nick Rolando were able to hold a lead that Princeton (8-5) held from the start.
After Fieldcrest (0-12) went 1-2-3 in the top of the first, the Tigers pounced for two runs in the bottom of the first off Knights starting pitcher Brady Sanders.
After PHS lead-off hitter J.J. Vaccaro and No. 2 hitter Isaiah Taylor both singled, Vaccaro scored on an RBI groundout by Marvin, and Taylor scored on a two-out single by Rolando.
“It was absolutely huge to get those runs before (Fieldcrest) got the jitters out,” Tim Taylor said. “We were able to relax after that, and that we were able to hold them to zero in their first at-bat and get that initial inning out of the way unscathed was big for us.”
Hayes added a sacrifice fly in the third, and first baseman Austin Schindel singled home a run in the fourth as the Tigers took a 4-0 lead after four innings.
Fieldcrest rallied in the sixth against a tiring Hayes.
After Drew Barth lined out to Hayes to start the inning, Sanders and first baseman Jordan Cochran singled before Hayes walked third baseman Ryan Barth to load the bases with one out.
An RBI groundout by Brandon Holst pulled Fieldcrest to 4-1 before Moline’s liner to Marvin in right field ended the threat.
“I felt like we hit the ball hard all day, but we just hit it right at people,” Fieldcrest coach Mark Brown said. “We got a little rally in the sixth, but we just couldn’t sustain it for long enough. We got one run instead of a couple.”
Rolando pitched a scoreless seventh to earn the save and preserve Princeton’s victory.
Vaccaro finished with two runs scored and two stolen bases for PHS, while Taylor also scored and stole two bases. Rolando scored and drove in a run while also swiping a pair of bases.
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.
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