BY MIKE STROM
Special to The Advocate
Aggressive base running by Gauthier & Amedee and a relatively obscure balk rule proved more than the River Ridge Patriots could handle in Saturday’s opening game of the American Legion State Tournament at Kirsch-Rooney Field.
Major League Baseball rule No. 31 charges pitchers with a balk when they feint a pickoff attempt and do not complete their throw to the targeted base. This rule normally is not applicable in high school baseball, but American Legion follows MLB rules.
As such Rule 31 opened the door for the game’s first run to score, and Gauthier & Amedee closed it with another run in the same eighth inning to record a 2-1 victory against River Ridge that propelled the Wombats into Sunday’s winners bracket.
“That was a great game between two really good teams,” G&A coach Marty Luquet said. “When the pitching is outstanding, you’ve got to find a way to get a run and sometimes it’s just a matter of putting the ball in play. Obviously, the balk is a different rule in Legion than high school. Then our kid (Crawford) scoring from second was just a hustle play, knowing there was an opportunity and seizing it.”
G&A’s Noah Fontenot was directed home from third base by umpires after River Ridge right-hander Will Ripoll faked a pickoff attempt toward Fontenot with runners at the corners and did not complete the throw.
Fontenot drew a one-out walk and advanced to third by sprinting to the uncovered base on Cameron Crawford’s bunt single to third. Crawford then scored from second with what proved to be the winning run on winning pitcher Zane Zeppuhar’s infield single.
Zeppuhar (1-1) and Ripoll (1-2) had been locked in a scoreless duel for seven-plus innings prior to the fateful eighth in which River Ridge chipped into Gauthier & Amedee’s lead with a single run.
The Patriots scored after Brandon Davis singled, advanced to third on Jordin LaBruzza’s double and scored on Cade Beloso’s sacrifice fly to center field.
Ripoll, an LSU commitment, struck out nine and walked two while allowing all seven of G&A’s hits in 7.2 innings before giving way to Beloso, who ended the eighth by picking off Zeppuhar.
The left-handed Zeppuhar, a Southeastern Louisiana commitment, struck out seven, walked three and allowed three hits in seven scoreless innings before being relieved by right-hander Jack Merrifield to open the bottom of the eighth.
“We were aware of the rule,” Curtis said. “But you get hot and tired, it’s late in the game and you’re trying to make a play.
“We just lost track of where we were. But we also didn’t cover third on the bunt. So you tip your cap to them for executing. That’s what good teams do.”
Gauthier & Amedee (23-4-1) advanced to a 3:30 p.m. Sunday winners bracket pairing against the Crowley Millers-Townsend Homes winner.
John Curtis-based River Ridge (8-2) fell into the losers bracket where the Class 5A Division I state prep champions face a 9 a.m. elimination game against the Game 3 loser between Crowley and St. Charles Catholic-based Townsend.
Rain and weather delays plagued the opening day’s final three games and forced them to be completed at Miley Playground. Reigning state champion Pedal Valves defeated the Southland Hogs, 4-2, in the day’s second game that had to be completed at Miley.
Pedal Valves, 21-6, advanced to a 6:30 p.m. Sunday winners bracket game to face the winner of Saturday’s late game between the Opelousas-based St. Landry Bank Indians and Holy Cross-based Ponstein’s. Southland (19-7) plays a noon elimination game against the Game 4 loser between St. Landry Bank and Ponstein’s.
The tournament resumes Sunday with Games 5 and 6 at Miley and Games 7 and 8 at Kirsch-Rooney.
State Legion Commissioner Sidney Parfait announced after Saturday’s second game that all remaining tournament games will be seven innings rather than nine because of the threat of inclement weather.
“The key to this (tournament) is you can’t fall into the losers bracket in the first game because then you have to play midday games and that heat eats you up,” Luquet said. “You have to play five games in a row and in the middle of the day and that’s kind of tough.”