DONALDSONVILLE — It was a fitting end to a high-stakes game filled with terrific pitching performances, outstanding defensive plays and one timely plate appearance.
Central Catholic of Morgan City’s T.J. Ruffin made up for three previous empty trips to the plate, doubling in pinch-runner Charlie Solar from second base in the top of the 10th inning, lifting the sixth-seeded Eagles to a 2-1 victory Monday over No. 14 seed Ascension Catholic before an overflow crowd at La La Regira Field.
The quarterfinal victory sends Central Catholic (23-4) back to the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Class 1A state tournament for the fourth straight year, meeting St. Edmund on Friday at 5 p.m. at McMurray Park in Sulphur.
“It’s absolutely the most difficult,” CCMC coach Tyler Jensen said of the past three quarterfinal sendoffs. “The two on the road have been the toughest. No quarterfinal game is easy. I’ve always said the quarterfinal game is the most difficult.”
Ruffin twice flied out, grounded out, and was hit by a pitch when he stepped in against Ascension Catholic reliver Falcon Mire with one out. Ruffin worked the count to 2-0 before sending Mire’s next pitch into the right-field corner for the only extra-base hit of the game for either team.
“I just wanted another chance after my last at-bat and going 0-for-whatever and not getting a run in,” Ruffin said. “I wanted to hit the top half of the ball and go the other way with the pitch.”
Ascension Catholic (16-17), which had its five-game win streak snapped, had a runner on with two out when Garrett Hales singled, but reliever Samuel Guarisco got Ross Ponville to foul out to first baseman Mitchell Lemoine.
“I thought it was going to be a good game,” ACHS coach Todd Landry said. “For high school baseball, it doesn’t get any better. Both pitchers threw phenomenal games. It’s a shame anybody had to lose it. You have to give them credit. They got the hit and the right time.”
The teams met nearly two months ago when CCMC scored a 5-4 victory in eight innings in its own tournament.
Central Catholic scored in the top of the first when ACHS starter Landon Clifton walked the Eagles’ initial two batters of the game.
Clifton responded with two consecutive groundouts, but it was the second, off the bat of Thomas Garber, that produced a run when Stefano Guarisco scored from third.
ACHS faced a similar scoring prospect in its first at-bat, loading the bases against starter Greg Leger on three straight walks.
The sophomore right-hander got James Martin looking at strike three, and Stefano Guarisco turned a 6-4-3 double play to get out of the inning.
ACHS got its first hit and tied the game at 1-1 after two were out in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Martin led off with a walk, moved up on a wild pitch and came around to score on designated hitter Charlie Genaloni’s single, just beating left fielder Charlie Barron’s throw to the plate that was up the line.
With Leger locked in, allowing three hits over eight innings, the Bulldogs tried to force when Martin was thrown out trying to steal home to close out the sixth inning.
Leger threw 70 of 119 pitches for strikes, walking six and striking out seven.
“It wasn’t like we had 10 hits,” Landry said. “We had to take the chance when we had it.”
Collins also settled into a groove after the first inning, scattering three hits over seven innings. He walked five and fanned four in his 119-pitch outing, 68 of which were strikes.
Samuel Guarisco had his first hit of the game, leading off the 10th after CCMC stranded a runner at third an inning earlier. Following a failed sacrifice in which Guarisco was thrown out at third by first baseman Hales, Ruffin delivered his game-winning hit.
“It was a huge hit, and we needed it,” Jensen said. “We had an opportunity before. We had opportunities throughout; we just couldn’t get that big hit. I would have really liked us to get another hit and make me feel a little bit better.”