Shaw-based Refuel relied on its late-game hitting and an impressive outing from pitcher Jace Nini to cruise to a 6-0 win over Rummel-based Deanie’s at Shaw on Thursday afternoon.
With the win, Refuel automatically draws a bye and advances tot he American Legion state championship. Deanie’s will compete in the Southeast Regional for an opportunity to join Refuel in the state championship, which begins July 8.
“It’s good to make it back to the state tournament after getting there last year,” Nini said. “We’re just excited for the opportunity to go out there and show what we’re capable of.”
Refuel third baseman Kyle Flettrich put the first run of the game on the board with a two-out RBI single in the fourth inning that brought in second baseman Josh Pantoja, who walked and advanced to third via sacrifice bunt and wild pitch.
The next Refuel batter, first baseman Keith Meier, smacked a pitch to deep right field, but the Deanie’s defense got under the pop fly and escaped the inning with a 1-0 deficit.
“I thought it was a good performance,” Refuel coach Kirk Bullinger said. “We started off a little sluggishly. It looked like we were just kind of feeling our way through the first few innings. ... Around the fourth inning we started being more patient in our at-bats and drawing more walks.”
After struggling to put runs on the board early in the game, Refuel took advantage of the Deanie’s defense to increase its lead in the fifth inning.
After opening the inning with a strikeout, the Deanie’s defense allowed back-to-back Refuel runners on base because of throwing errors. Refuel made them immediately pay with back-to-back singles by Caiden Reid and Josh Pantoja, the second of which increased the Refuel lead to 2-0.
After Pantoja’s single, Deanie’s turned to relief pitcher Tyler Braud to help escape the one-out, bases-loaded jam. The left-hander responded, putting a runner out at home after a wild pitch and striking out the final batter to end the inning.
“Typically when Jace pitches against these guys we aren’t able to get him any runs,” Bullinger said of Rummel-based Deanie’s. “Putting a few runs on the board made things much easier for us and we didn’t have to lean on Jace to get us across the finish line.”
Refuel added four more runs in the sixth, seventh and ninth innings to pad its lead, which was more than enough cushion for Refuel’s slick-throwing right-hander Nini.
He was unfazed on the mound for just about all of Thursday’s game, pitching a scoreless 7.1 innings, while allowing six hits and striking out six. He also added a 2-for-4 performance at the plate.
After allowing two runners on in the eighth inning, Refuel allowed Brandon Guillot to relieve Nini, and he quickly forced Deanie’s into an inning-ending double play and finished the game off in the ninth inning to secure the save.
“I didn’t have my best stuff today, but I tried to fight through it,” Nini said. “My teammates gave me some cushion on the scoreboard, so it was good enough to get the job done.”