Christian Life’s baseball team exchanged handshakes and pats on the back but nothing resembling a team that had just won its first state playoff game in seven years.
“During practice coach (Jonathan) Causey kept telling us to go out and have fun, don’t worry and get too tight,” CLA pitcher Michael Stinson said. “Just have fun and go play ball and when we’re relaxed, I think we’re one of the best teams.”
No. 10 CLA snapped a 1-all deadlock with a five-run fourth inning, and Stinson went on to a complete-game victory in a 7-3 victory Thursday over No. 23 Country Day in a Class 1A first-round playoff game.
CLA (16-11) advances to face the winner of Friday’s St. Edmund-False River game in next week’s regional round.
“This is the best team we’ve had here in a long time,” Causey said. “I think early on we were kind of nervous and had some jitters. Luckily, Michael’s pretty good ,which is what it comes down to.”
Stinson (6-5) scattered six hits, walked two and struck out 11, including two looking and another swinging to close the seventh.
Country Day (8-10) led 1-0 when center fielder Jacob Williams couldn’t find Brigg Ham’s ball in the sun and allowed Grant Mathews to score from second.
Stinson stranded a pair of runners in scoring position in the second before getting in a groove where the senior right-hander retired the side in the third and went on to strike out five of the next six batters he faced.
“I think I threw a little too many pitches,” said Stinson, who threw 81 of 121 pitches for strikes. “I think I could have gotten out of a lot of innings quicker. Overall, I don’t think I did too bad. Hopefully I’ll have a better outing next round.”
CLA tied the game on Garrett Smith’s RBI groundout in the second and exhaled after the fourth in which the Crusaders built a 6-1 lead, scoring five times on three hits after two outs.
Nick Harris drove in the go-ahead run with a slicing single to right and lead-off hitter Sterling O’Brien delivered the key hit — a two-run single through the hole into left field.
“It felt great because it broke the ice,” Causey said of the fourth inning. “For a group that hadn’t won a playoff game that’s what they needed. It was good.”