WIth his team preparing to play its fourth game in five days Friday at Marriotts Ridge, Oakland Mills baseball coach Brian Rau was concerned about the wear and tear on his players, especially his pitcher's arms.
But with his team battling the Mustangs for the top spot in the county standings, Rau couldn't afford to hand the ball to an inexperienced pitcher.
The solution, it turns out, was to let two players share the mound.
Seniors Evan Russell and Joe Zayatz combined to pitch a seven inning six-hitter, leading Oakland Mills past Marriotts Ridge, 3-1.
"It worked out very nicely. Going into the game coach only wanted me to throw about two or three innings, just to give my hardest, and then have Joe share the rest," said Russell, who struck out one, walked one and allowed only one hit, a Ryan Miller double, in three innings. "Pretty much living low and hitting my spots is what I was focusing on, off speeds, because they can hit the ball."
Marriotts Ridge (7-3) sent ace Eric Brown (5 innings, 5 strikeouts, 5 hits, 3 walks) to the mound on Friday, and for the most part, the senior held the Scorpions in check.
In the third inning, though, Oakland Mills got all the runs it would need.
In that inning, Russell, the leadoff batter, drew a one-out walk, Zayatz doubled, catcher Ben Hale drew a walk, and then Mike Mastrandrea hit a clutch two-out, two-run single, followed by an RBI single by center fielder Ben Kale.
"Guys stepped up and hit. It was all hits, it was nothing cheap," Rau said. "Mike Mastrandrea came up huge with a two-run single. He's been hitting the ball very well the last couple of days."
"Timely hitting is huge and it feels great to pitch with a lead," Russell said. "That's what we've been working on all year is manufacturing runs and situational hitting."
Marriots Ridge's Michael Dorsch rapped a leadoff single in the fourth, but was stranded, and then Zayatz retired the side in the fifth on only four pitches.
"They placed a couple good pitches, they did what they do, they threw strikes," said Marriotts Ridge coach Paul Eckert, whose team was shut out by Reservoir ace Cody Morris, 3-0, on Wednesday. "It's tough to win with one run. We've gone 14 innings now with one run, and you're asking an awful lot of your pitchers and your defense when you do that."
The Mustangs finally broke through in the sixth, when Nick Spano led off with a double and scored on a single by Kevin Ross. Marriotts Ridge then got the tying run on base in the bottom of the seventh when Grant Summers hit a two-out single followed by a Ryan Miller walk. But Zayatz put out the fire with his second strikeout, ending the game.
Summers also pitched two innings of scoreless relief for Marriotts Ridge.
"They made the pitches when they had to, they made the plays when they had to and they got the hits when they had to. We weren't able to do that. It doesn't mean we won't on Monday or Wednesday or next Friday, but today we didn't do it," Eckert said. "I told our kids somebody is going to walk away today with a big win, lets make it be us. Today it was them."
Oakland Mills is now 8-1, tied with Atholton — a 7-5 winner over Mt. Hebron — atop the county standings.
"Everybody can beat anybody, and I think that'll happen, so we'll keep plugging away," Eckert said. "We'll get after it and see what happens."
OM (8-1) 003 000 0 - 3 6 2
MR (7-3) 000 001 0 - 1 6 0
Brown (5), Summers and Carson. Russell (3), Zayatz and Hale.