Halfway through the season, the Orioles are playing like Regionals is here already.
Now they just hope to keep it up.
Augusta’s baseball team improved to 9-1 with two dominant wins over Collegiate Monday night at home in a nice bounce-back sweep after its first loss of the season last week at Wellington. The Orioles won Game 1 10-1, then won Game 2 9-0.
“For the most part, I thought we responded well after not being focused and ready to go last week,” said coach Doug Jefferson. “Wellington kind of handed it to us. But I liked our response.”
Even when there were some weird plays or calls that didn’t go their way, the Orioles didn’t let that deter them at all.
“That’s one of the things we’re trying to get better at is our mental focus and staying locked in for 14 innings a night,” Jefferson said.
Augusta pitching was too dominant for Collegiate to handle in the opener. Taite Saldana pitched a one-hit gem to get the win after five innings pitched. He struck out seven batters while allowing only one double and two walks. Saldana fought through some oddities; he was called for two balks in the fourth inning after a one-out double to give the Spartans their only run.
Clay Wesbrooks came in relief and shut it down the rest of the way. He got help from Nolan Riley, who took his position at shortstop when he switched to the mound. Riley showed some range, covered a lot of ground and showed arm strength with three straight groundouts. Wesbrooks had a hiccup in the seventh after issuing three straight walks with one out, but he buckled down to get a strikeout and force a pop-up to himself to end the game.
The Orioles’ offense got cracking in the third inning. They led off with three straight doubles by TJ Roberts, Tyler Smith and Seth McGuire to score two runs. Wesbrooks followed that with a single to push it to 3-0, and he later worked around the bases and scored from third on a wild pitch for a 4-0 lead.
Roberts led off the third with a single. Colton Barnett later hit a single, and Wesbrooks hit a sacrifice fly to score a run for a 5-0 lead.
“I was just seeing the ball well,” Roberts said. “We do a lot of hitting during practice. Coaches really let us working on our hitting.”
Collegiate broke up the no-hitter and the shutout in the fourth with the double and the run.
Saldana hit a single to start the Orioles’ fourth. Collegiate started throwing around the ball a little bit to allow him to move around the bases. Riley later drove him in from third on another error.
Augusta sealed it with four runs in the sixth. Collin Eldringhoff and Roberts led off with back-to-back walks. A wild pitch allowed Eldringhoff to score from second. McGuire later drove in courtesy runner Grady Tole. After the Orioles loaded the bases, Chance Whitehead came through with a big two-RBI single right up the middle. The Orioles were one base away from ending the game with a run-rule win, but Collegiate made a nice defensive play instead.
Game 2 was a lot tighter as the Orioles didn’t put together that big inning to blow it up until late in the game. But they methodically controlled the game.
After two scoreless innings, Jonny Clausing and Trace Blakesley ripped back-to-back singles, then Dalton Eberhardt drew a walk to load the bases. Wesbrooks drove in the game’s first run on a sacrifice grounder.
In the fourth, Riley smoked a double, then scored after Eldringhoff ripped an RBI single. Two batters later, Clausing hit an RBI single down the line for a 3-0 Oriole lead.
Augusta took a comfortable lead in the fourth. Collegiate struck out the first two batters, but after a pitching change, Whitehead and Saldana drew back-to-back walks. Riley then hit a bloop single that got by the right fielder on an error as he drove in two runs and reached second. Eldringhoff then drove him in to give Augusta a 6-0 lead.
Riley struck out three in the fifth. He just refused to let the Spartans into it as he got better as the game went on. He fanned 11 batters in all. He retired the side in the sixth with just six pitches, then struck out the side in the seventh to end it.
“Our team was thriving, and I just kept thriving off that, kept flowing higher and higher,” Riley said. “I had all my stuff working, and I was pretty good on my locations. And our defense was playing really well. They made every routine play that needed to be made.”
“They hit their spots and make my job easy,” Roberts, the Orioles’ catcher, said about his pitchers Monday night.
Tole crushed a two-RBI triple to score Saldana and Riley for an 8-0 lead in the sixth. Clausing drove him in for a 9-0 lead, where the score remained.
The defense played outstanding ball throughout the day. Eldringhoff made an incredible catch in right field with his glove outstretched to the sky as far as it could go in Game 2.
“That was a hard-hit ball. I was impressed with that. I thought he had nice ups,” Roberts said of Eldringhoff on the play.
Roberts made a nice over-the-shoulder catch for a foulout in Game 1. Riley snagged a would-be hit and turned it into a 1-6-3 double play instead.
The Orioles are off the rest of the week, but they will be facing much tougher competition in the back half of their schedule. Augusta hosts Andale next Monday, and faces El Dorado, McPherson and Buhler in a two-week stretch.
“Starting Monday, it’s game on for two straight weeks with tough teams,” Jefferson said. “We’ll definitely find out where we’re out.”