Holy Cross pitcher Christian Clayton won’t win any hospitality awards for the way he treated his good friend and Shaw starting pitcher Jace Nini on Wednesday.
But Clayton (4-1) did win the opening District 9-5A game for both teams, 4-3, thanks to a little help from his friends.
Clayton’s booming triple in the first inning accounted for a pair of runs and a two-run double in the third by Grant Schulz provided all the runs needed as the Tigers (12-8) defeated Shaw (10-6) — a team projected as a potential Catholic League favorite this season.
“I’ll mess with (Nini) a little later,” Clayton said with a big smile. “I’ll text him. He and I played together from 6 (years old) to 13.”
The two were teammates on the Diamondbacks, a youth baseball travel team.
In addition to delivering the game’s winning runs, second baseman Shulz turned in two key defensive plays after Shaw, trailing 4-1, loaded the bases with none out in the fourth.
Shulz grabbed a hard hit ground ball off the bat of Caiden Reed and turned a 4-6-3 double play with shortstop Matt Muhlisen. A run scored on the play. With two outs and a runner at third, Schulz back-handed a shot toward second off the bat of Josh Pantoja and made a perfect throw to retire the speedy Pantoja.
“We squared the ball up and hit it hard (in some key situations),” Shaw coach Kirk Bullinger said. “Caiden hit a bullet and (Schulz) turned it into a double play. Then (Schulz) back-handed a shot and turned that into an out. Those were big.”
Shaw loaded the bases in the third, fourth and sixth and put two runners on in the first and fifth. The Eagles had 10 hits and stranded 12 runners.
Clayton’s and Schulz’s extra base hits came early when Nini’s pitches tended to be up in the strike zone. Nini settled in and struck out nine, including five of his final six outs.
“The triple felt good,” Clayton said. “But, I was just as happy for Grant’s big hit.”
Schulz committed an error in the first inning, leading to Shaw’s first run. “It bothered me,” Schulz said.
“Late in the game and with the game on the line, there’s no one I’d rather have the ball hit to than (Schulz),” Holy Cross coach Greg Battistella said.
Reliever Brenden Taravella pitched the final two innings for Holy Cross and picked up his sixth save, but he had to work out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth.
Left-handed hitting Keith Meier led off the inning with a pinch-hit double deep to left-center, and he was replaced by pinch-runner Justin Destriecher. Destriecher scored on a two- out double by Nini.
After an intentional walk that loaded the bases, Taravella induced Keller to ground out.
“This is the kind of team we are,” Clayton said. “We pick each other up. I have a bad inning, the defense picks me up. We make an error, and I was able to get a couple of strike outs.”
Both of Shaw’s runs were unearned. Keller had two hits, including a double, and reached base three times.