By JUSTIN RAINS
In the minds of the players on the Elkhart baseball team, what makes the Elks so dangerous is how many different ways they can beat you.
On Friday, the fifth-ranked Elks rode a strong pitching performance and station-to-station baseball to a 2-1 victory over Class 1A No. 2 Douglass in a warm-up game here at The Backyard.
“We needed that kind of competition,” EHS coach John Adair said. “This whole week has been a great week for us because of that. We had to find a way to win without hitting a baseball, and when you win a game 2-1 off two sac flies, that’s gutsy.”
The game was a pitcher’s duel throughout, with Douglass taking the lead in the third inning on an unearned run.
The Elks failed to get a runner past second until the sixth, when Cole Bridges led off the inning with a walk, followed by him stealing second and moving to third on a wild pitch.
The next batter, Cam Reeves, lifted a fly ball to centerfield that Douglass centerfielder Blake Wallace camped under, readying himself to attempt to get Bridges at the plate.
But, Wallace couldn’t make the initial catch, and Bridges scored easily while Reeves stood at first.
Reeves then also stole second and moved to third on the throw, which got away from Douglass shortstop Reed Westbrook.
He then scored on a fly ball from Jacob Cheatham to centerfield.
“When your facing pitching that good, you’re not going to score a lot of runs,” Elkhart right fielder Tyler Tutt said. “I’d have liked to get them earlier on, but getting them in the sixth inning counts. To me, there’s nothing better than getting them on a couple of sac flys.”
Douglass didn’t go quietly in the seventh, as Brandon Stanfield walked against Cheatham before Bryce Westbrook ripped a single up the middle to put runners on first and second.
But, Cheatham bore down and struck out the next three batters, ending the game with a strike-out looking of Chance Partin.
“I personally needed that because I hadn’t had a lot of struggles out on the mound and I needed to be able to grind through it,” Cheatham said. “I was struggling on my fastball, but I went to my...curveball and that was there. After we found that, we mixed some fastballs in which made (Douglass) of balance, and it ended up working for me.”
The win was the second of the week for the Elks’ over a team in the state’s top-10. Tuesday, Elkhart defeated Class 3A No. 9 Lindale, 6-1.
All four of the Elks’ major pitchers threw in the game, with Reeves, Cheatham and Jordan White each throwing two innings while Bridges threw one.
Reeves allowed only a one-out triple in the first inning, which he worked around by striking out the final two batters of the frame. He also struck out the first two batters of the second.
Bridges came on for the third, and after striking out Matthew Wallace to begin the inning gave up a single to Ty Marmon and a walk to Partin.
He then got a ground ball to Cheatham at shortstop that looked as if it would start a double-play to end the inning, but Elkhart was unable to complete the double-up, and Marmon came around to score on the play when the throw from Brian Johnson got past Jordan White.
Bridges recovered to get out of the inning with a strikeout of Kolten Rhoades.
White pitched the fourth and fifth innings, allowing one hit in two scoreless innings, with Cheatham earning the win in the final two innings.
Cheatham struck out three, and made a nice defensive play in the sixth on a bunt attempt by Rhoades.
Rhoades popped his bunt up, and Cheatham got to the ball for the out, then doubled up Collin Wallace, who had walked to lead off the inning.
Elkhart finally gets back to meaningful action this next weekend after two weeks of warm-up games.
“A lot of people probably think we’re going to go in with a lot of pressure on our backs because last year we lost in the first round,” Tutt said. “We’re just going to go in and, like coach Adair always says, we’re not going to play the opponent, we’re going to play the game.
“We’re going to play our brand of baseball and do whatever we can to win.”
The Elks take on the winner of the Anderson-Shiro/Warren bi-district series. Warren led the series, 1-0, after Friday, but Saturday results were unknown at press time.