FLORENCE — Deshler’s baseball team strong-armed its way to a second straight TimesDaily Classic championship Thursday.
The Tigers used a 12-strikeout performance by starting pitcher J.T. Thompson in a 3-0 semifinal win against Mars Hill.
Deshler turned right around and got 13 strikeouts in six innings from nightcap starter Taylor Gross, who led the Tigers to a 4-0 win against Central in the championship game.
With back-to-back shutouts — the first against new area opponent and defending Class 3A state champion Mars Hill, and then against a 4A Central team that put Deshler out in the second round of the playoffs last year — the Tigers gained a boost of early-season confidence on a frigid evening at Florence High School.
Gross threw almost 100 pitches in the nightcap but showed no signs of tiring, striking out eight of the final 12 batters he faced. He allowed three hits and walked two while facing 24 batters Thursday, and finished with 33 strikeouts in the tournament.
T.J. Riner, who picked up a save against Mars Hill, came on in relief to start the seventh against Central and closed out the win, striking out three of the four batters he faced.
“Our pitching has been great,” Deshler coach Jason Fuller said. “We’ve had four shutouts in 10 games. The biggest thing with Taylor is he’s healthy. Before he was getting stingers, getting banged up playing football and not having time to recover. He just couldn’t sustain. He was a 1- or 2-inning guy. This year he didn’t play football and got in a lot of work in the fall. He’s really good when he’s healthy, and we really thrive on his pitching.”
Gross helped his own cause, ripping a one-out, one-on double to left field in the second inning, scoring Will Davis from first base.
The Tigers added single runs in the third, fourth and sixth innings to expand their lead.
Justin Cantrell (2-for-4) doubled to lead off the third and scored on a single by Carson McGregory (2-for-4), as Deshler rattled off three straight hits off Caleb McDonald, the first of four Central pitchers.
It was the Tigers’ only earned run, having capitalized on Wildcats’ miscues to set up the other three. Central finished with four errors and walked four batters but stranded nine Deshler base runners.
“We made a lot of mistakes, and that hurt us,” Central coach Jerome Lambert said. “We had some base runners, but when we did get a little something, (Gross) would take control. He pitched really strong for them.”
Deshler’s Will Davis drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the fourth, advanced to third on Riner’s one-out single and scored on a squeeze bunt by Tucker Norwood for a 3-0 lead.
Davis walked a gain to lead off the sixth, stole second, took third on a wild pitch and scored on a dropped fly ball in left field to make it a four-run game.
Central’s best scoring opportunity came in the top of the second with two on and none out. But Gross sandwiched strikeouts around a ground-ball fielder’s choice to second to escape the inning.
“I was able to focus on baseball more and get my pitch count up more this offseason, because coach told me I could be a starter this year,” Gross said. “Last year, we got put out in the second round, and I want to help my team advance further this year because they deserve it.
“I asked coach if I could pitch against them because I wanted a little bit of redemption,” added Gross, referring to Deshler’s 2012 playoff loss to Central. “He blessed me with it.”
Bryan App can be reached at 256-740-5730 or email@example.com. Follow @bappster on Twitter.
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