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MENDOTA — In the words of Mendota baseball coach Aaron Sester and countless other baseball managers, “defense and pitching wins ball games.”
This old sports cliché was proved right Wednesday when Oregon beat the Trojans with a 7-0 shutout thanks to Hawks’ pitcher Alex Cain and five Mendota errors.
“Defense and pitching wins ball games. I give credit to their pitcher. Cain is a great player — he’s going Division I for a reason and he showed it today. He mixes pitches well and he threw a heck of a lot of strikes,” Sester said. “Defensively, when you’re facing a kid like that, you have a small margin of error. It’s something we’ve been working on all spring, but we haven’t been able to get outside a whole lot. It’s tough when you’re taking ground balls in the gym and they are all true hops. Out in the field, they are bouncing all over the place. Kids have to make plays. They have to step up, make plays and there is no other way to put it.”
Cain, who is verbally committed to Eastern Illinois University, struck out 16 Trojans and allowed zero runs off of four hits in a complete game.
Mendota played tough defense in the first, third, fourth and fifth inning as it only allowed two extra Hawk hitters and no base runner past first base.
However, the Hawks had the bases loaded in the other three frames.
Three of Oregon’s runs were earned, while two came off of a Trojan infield error and the other two were brought across home plate because a Hawks’ batter was hit by a pitch.
“We have been trying to put more balls in play. We’ve had some problems striking out,” Oregon coach Adam Albrecht said. “We just talked about timely hits and if a team makes a mistake, look to take advantage of it and get that one hit that scores a lot of runs.”
Mendota did have trouble connecting with the ball for most of the game, but hit Cain well in two innings.
In the third inning, the first three Trojan sluggers of the frame —No. 8 batter and second baseman Brett Becker, designated hitter Rick Shankles and center fielder Evan Shultz — hit singles to load the bases in an effort to cut into the Oregon lead.
“At that point, we were down four and I thought about suicide squeezing but down with no one out, I thought we’d get at least one in, but like I said, Cain is the type of player on the mound that can pitch his team out of that. He did exactly that,” Sester said.
The next three batters were sat down in succession as Cain struck out two while third baseman and clean-up hitter Trey Blumhorst was robbed of a potential two- or three-RBI blast to the warning track when Oregon right fielder Paul Rypkema made a diving play to end the inning.
The other Trojan hitting display came with a 5-0 deficit in the sixth inning.
With one out, John Gehm was sent to first on one of two Cain walks. Blumhorst put his bat to action once again with a blast to the center field warning track where the Hawks center fielder lost the bomb in the sun.
This set up Gehm and Blumhorst on third and second with only one out.
However, like before, Mendota couldn’t send the base runners home as Cain struck out two more and Riley Schuhler’s bullet to right field was caught.
“We needed to come out of that with at least two, and come regional time, that’s something our kids need to learn and get better with,” Sester said. “If they don’t do that, it’s going to be a short postseason for us.”
Brandon LaChance can be reached at 220-6939, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.
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