With his team playing its fourth game in four days, Refuel Coach Kirk Bullinger knew, “We weren’t deep on pitching, we were thin.”
An effort that Bullinger described as “bulldog-like” from pitcher Austin Jackson solved the problem.
Jackson, a junior who had pitched only six innings before Tuesday during Refuel’s 17-2-1 season, pitched a solid eight innings as Refuel qualified for the American Legion state tournament with a 5-1 victory over Otto Candies at Kirsch-Rooney stadium.
Hahnville-based Otto Candies, already qualified for the state tournament by virtue of its 3-0 start in the American Legion southeast regional, scored only an unearned run, a result of an error by Jackson.
“He came out today and was a bulldog,” Bullinger said. “He wanted the ball, and I hated to take him out (in the ninth inning).” Otto Candies loaded the bases in the ninth with none out, but Jace Nini, who pitched seven-plus innings in the tournament Saturday, worked out of the jam with two plays that Bullinger said “showed how athletic he is.”
Nini scooped up a slow roller in front of the plate to retire Otto Candies’ Bryce Hargis, then snagged a line drive back through the middle off the bat of Waylon LeBlanc and alertly doubled the runner off third to end the game.
It was the third double play of the game for Refuel, a team that played solid defense, pitched efficiently and banged out 11 hits against an Otto Candies (16-6-1) team that had dominated the tournament.
“It’s a tribute to these kids,” Bullinger said. “We won a hard-fought game against a good Jesuit (Retif Oil) team (Monday) and thought we were in. Then we found out we had to win today or get help (from another team) to make the state tournament.
“We were focused, and I think we are the best team in the city right now.”
Refuel advances in the southeast tournament to play Brother Martin-based Peake BMW at 4 p.m. Wednesday. Peake eliminated Rummel-based Deanie’s Seafood 4-3 Tuesday night.in a 4 p.m. game Wednesday. Hahnville-based Otto Candies will play the Peake-Refuel winner.
Peake BMW, Refuel, and Otto Candies have all advanced to the state tournament on July 19-23 at Delgado Community College.
Refuel also received offensive production from a new face.
Nick Carbo, who had only one at-bat in the tournament before Tuesday, had two hits and drove in two runs, one on a sacrifice fly that Bullinger said “was a pivotal at-bat”
Carbo’s deep fly to center scored Refuel’s second run in the fourth inning, giving Refuel a 2-0 lead.
Brandon Guillot led off with a double, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on Nini’s sacrifice fly. Matt Keller doubled with one out, moved to third on Scott Ledet’s single and scored on Carbo’s fly ball.
Candies answered with a run in the fifth. Chase Bagot led off with a single. After one of Jackson’s six strikeouts, a slow roller to the mound eluded Jackson’s glove. Wayne LeBlanc bunted for a base hit to load the bases, and Bagot scored when Tyler Lamers reached when his ground ball to short failed to produce a force play at second.
Jackson got out of the jam when a grounder back to the mound produced a pitcher-to-home-to-first double play.
Carbo gave Refuel a 3-1 lead in the sixth with an RBI single that scored Keller. Carbo also led off the eighth inning with a single, stole second and scored on Reid Caiden’s single. Kile Flettrich singled to drive in Caiden, giving Refuel its 5-1 margin.
“I asked (Jackson) to give me whatever he had,” Bullinger said. “He darn near gave me nine innings.”