ZACHARY — Live Oak couldn’t let Zachary pitcher Cory Muscleman win without a little drama.
With a 3-1 deficit heading into the seventh inning, Eagles left fielder Preston Faulkner hit a home run off Muscleman that barely squeaked past the left field foul pole, cutting the Broncos’ lead to 3-2.
Muscleman said he was nervous after walking what would have been the tying run for the Eagles two batters later but knew he had the ability to pound the strike zone for the win.
So that’s what he did.
Muscleman struck out his fifth batter to close the complete game and give Zachary the 3-2 win over the District 4-5A rival.
“That’s normal,” Muscleman said of his nerves in the final half inning.
“I know I have a good defense behind me, so I can just throw the strikes.”
Zachary (17-5) coach Jesse Cassard had his closer warming up in the bullpen just in case Muscleman (6-0) got himself into an even bigger jam, but he said he felt it was important to let the senior ace finish what he started.
Cassard’s decision was helped by the fact Muscleman’s pitch count was only in the high 60s heading into the seventh thanks to earlier innings, when he escaped with less than 10 pitches.
Muscleman allowed three hits, two walks and two earned runs in the win.
“We need (Muscleman) to start throwing complete games because, once the playoffs start, we need him to throw a complete game,” Cassard said. “He was within his pitch count, so I wanted to reward him with a complete game.”
While Cassard was pleased his team held off the comeback, he was less enthused about how many runners the Broncos left on base.
Zachary put the leadoff man on base in three of its six times Friday night but left four runners on base, including two in scoring position.
Zachary catcher Evan Pace stepped up, though, when his team needed him to.
Pace produced a pair of RBIs off Eagles pitcher Hunter Merritt (2-3), including an eventual game-winning RBI triple to dead center that glanced off the outstretched glove of Live Oak’s Tyler Alexander in the fifth inning.
“It was a curveball, and I just sat back on it,” Pace said. “When (Alexander) missed it, sparks just flew.”
Merritt gave four hits, three walks and two earned runs and struck one in six innings.
Live Oak jumped out to an early lead when leadoff hitter Lenni Kunert hit a homer to left-center field on the third pitch of the game, but the advantage was short-lived.
Zachary second baseman PJ Cannon scored on a throwing error to tie the game in the bottom of the first.
The error was one of two the Eagles committed, a fact Live Oak coach Greg Briggs said was possibly the deciding factor.
“If we make the plays earlier in the game, maybe we’re not in that situation and (Faulkner’s home run) is the go ahead run or the tying run,” Briggs said.