DENHAM SPRINGS – Denham Springs junior pitcher Dalton Diez had three days to think about getting his first starting assignment in a postseason game.
He watched teammates go before him in years past, setting a decided tone and paving the way for their team’s victory.
Diez made his first such start a memorable one, carrying a shutout into the seventh inning before settling for a complete-game 9-1 victory over No. 18 Mandeville at A.B. Netterville Field in North Park in Tuesday’s Class 5A state bi-district game.
“Last year we had Cade (Doughty) throwing in the first round and he made it look pretty easy,” Diez said. “The mentorship was there. It was great to go out and get a win for the team.”
No. 15 Denham Springs (17-13) equaled a season-high four-game win streak, advancing to Friday’s best-of-3 regional series at No. 2 Sam Houston, a 13-0 winner over Southwood.
“He did a super job for his first playoff,” Denham Springs coach Mark Carroll said of Diez. “A lot of these kids are getting their first playoff experience as starters and they did a nice job of handling it. We’ll take it.”
Diez allowed a two-out single to Mandeville shortstop Jake Laws – a liner that deflected off the top of a leaping Doughty at shortstop that went into left field.
The right hander promptly retired the next 16 consecutive batters until Laws’ lead-off double in the seventh. He wound up scoring on Ethan Delery’s two-out double down the third-base line.
“In the first inning I struggled with fastball command,” Diez said. “After that I was able to spot the fastball and get ahead early. First-pitch strike was a big thing and then worked my off-speed after that. It was smooth after that.”
Diez, who allowed a total of three hits with six strikeouts, pitched around the Delery’s double and the team’s lone error by getting a fly ball out to Josh Preston in right field to end the game.
“My mindset was to pitch as well as I could,” Diez said. “I came out there and did pretty good. There was definitely more adrenaline rolling because it was a bigger game. It was fun.”
Said Carroll of Diez, “I’m very pleased with what he did. That’s the first run we’ve given up in four games. The pitchers have stepped up when we’ve tried to adjust to some of the injuries we’ve had. Dalton’s done a super job and did it again in this game.”
Denham Springs totaled six hits against three Mandeville pitchers, who combined to walk seven batters and hit five more. Preston had two of those hits – both singles - and scored twice.
The Yellow Jackets opened a 4-0 lead with four runs in the second – a stretch of runs ignited by Tyler Evans’ RBI-triple to left-center field with David Frye aboard after getting hit by Mandeville’s losing pitcher Michael Cauble.
Following a walk and wild pitch to Brennan Hall, designated hitter Matt Delaney drove in Hall with a single to right with the Jackets final two runs of the inning scoring on a wild pitch and passed ball.
“Everything started to click after we got the spark in the second inning,” Evans said. “Everything just went from there. We kept scoring runs and stayed on top of them the entire game.”
Denham Springs parlayed a pair of errors into two unearned runs in the fourth and scored three more times in the fifth with the benefit of only one hit.
For the second time in the game the Yellow Jackets sent nine batters to the plate where they scored two runs when Noah Juan and Tristan Duhe were hit consecutively with the bases loaded.
Frye picked up his second RBI of the game with a bases-loaded walk to force in Doughty, who walked three times and singled.
“Now we’re starting to get to the point where we’re seeing pitches better,” said Evans, who also contributed a spectacular running catch in the left-center gap for the first out in the fourth. “We’re seeing it out of their hand better, swinging at better pitches and everything’s going well for us.”