It turned out that the Washington Eagles’ six-run seventh inning rally to break Thursday’s game against the Lincoln Mustangs open was the key to sweeping the three-game season series between the two teams, as Lincoln’s three-run rally in the bottom half of the frame would have otherwise tied the score.
“We added on six, and if we hadn’t added on those six it’s 4-4,” head coach Brian Jesson said. “That was the whole speech after the game.”
That late rally provided the necessary cushion for a 10-4 win to not only sweep the series, but to also clinch third place in the Academic Athletic Association for Washington (9-15, 8-6 AAA) with just one game left in the regular season. It’s a victory that ensures the Eagles will open the playoffs with the runner-up from Division 2, and a win would put them in a semifinal matchup with second place Mission.
Lincoln (11-13, 6-8) now has a tougher road, still needing to beat Balboa (4-8 AAA) to close the regular season. Assuming the Mustangs do win that game, they’d then face the Division 2 champion, and a win would pit them against regular season champion Lowell in the semis.
“It’s really coming down to mentality,” first-year Lincoln head coach James Burke said. “Unfortunately we have an atmosphere where they get used to falling behind, and when that happens we have a hard time coming back. What we have to do is learn how to get the energy level, make the big plays and have timely hitting. We have to realize we’re as good as the team we were at the start of the year that beat Mission and beat Lowell.”
With starting pitcher Devlin Armas at 101 pitches after holding Lincoln to four hits over six innings, adding on was critical for the Eagles with their ace nine pitches shy of the limit. They ensured his services wouldn’t be needed for one last inning, taking advantage as Mustangs starter Ajani Adewusi had reached his limit of 110 with the final out of the sixth inning, retiring Christian Wong on a comebacker.
With Adewusi out of the game, Washington erupted for six runs as eight consecutive batters reached with one out. James Monterrosa, whose grounder in the first inning went for an error to score the game’s first two runs, doubled and scored on a hit from sophomore Niko Lanier. Christopher Wong then doubled Lanier in, freshman Kayne Moody reached on an error by the second baseman as Wong crossed the plate and Armas singled another run home for good measure. Leadoff man Jasper Lindsey followed that with a double, and one last error scored Lindsey to make it a commanding 10-1 lead for Washington.
That ensured Armas would pick up the win, a well-deserved one as he struck out four, walked two and hit one batter. Though he only had one 1-2-3 inning, he managed to avoid letting any runners get to third base outside of every inning except the third, in which an error set up freshman Julian Fong-McAdams to get Lincoln on the board with an RBI force out. That was the only inning in which the Mustangs would even get a runner into scoring position with less than two outs, and the Eagles would immediately get that run back in the top of the fourth as Moody reached on an error and scored on a Lindsey sac fly. Washington then added on another as Christian Wong’s groundout scored Armas, who had walked.
The rally in the top of the seventh ensured that Adewusi’s mammoth two-run triple to left in the bottom of the inning would do no more than wow the kids using the adjacent diamond, and though he’d score on a Colson Ryan sac fly, the Mustangs would never threaten to even get the tying run to the on-deck circle.
With three big offensive innings, it’s the sort of performance that Jesson was waiting to see from his team, especially with the postseason looming.
“You’re going to win on executing the nuts and bolts of the game,” he said. “You’ve got to move runners along and you’ve got to get a key hit here or there.”