WATSON – The weapon of choice when Live Oak finds itself it with no room for error stands 5-foot-5 and by his own coach’s admission barely throws over 70 miles per hour.
But the Eagles, as was the case in Saturday’s tense 6-5 victory over Hahnville, couldn’t image where they would be without sophomore relief pitcher Kade Dupont.
“When he comes in the guys go, ‘it’s over’,” Live Oak coach Jesse Cassard said of Dupont. “You can’t explain it. Baseball’s a weird deal. That kid’s been our best player.”
With runners at first and third and no outs, Dupont came in from second base to take over for starting pitching Sal Palermo and got a strikeout and game-ending double play.
Six pitches, two outs and the continuation of a season in which Dupont registered his ninth save of the season.
“Just filling up the strike zone and letting my defense work,” Dupont understated. “Just doing my job.”
Said Cassard: “For us it’s a mental edge. He does his thing and it’s impressive. He’s got ice-water in the veins.”
Dupont has already figured into 13 of his team’s 15 victories with a 4-0 record and nine saves. He picked up his second save over Hahnville, coming on to seal a 5-3 victory a week ago.
“I know that my coaches are going to do the job, call the pitches and I’ve to make the pitches and let my defense work,” Dupont said. “I know I’ve been doing it all year, it’s just doing my job.”
Dupont’s latest piece of work took place when Hahnville’s Ryan Barbier led off the seventh with a single and reached third when Ethan Chacon’s sacrifice bunt was dropped at first base.
Palermo departed after throwing 95 pitches (59 strikes), allowing five runs (four earned) on five hits with three walks and five strikeouts.
Dupont struck out Mason Lucky on a called third strike for the first out and got Hayden Theriot to bounce a 1-1 slow roller that Live Oak shortstop Rhett Rosevear had to charge. He threw to second baseman Dylan Williams who then turned and fired to Palermo, who remained in the game, at first base.
“It was a change-up, I kept it low and tried to set up the defense for a double play,” Dupont said. “I know Rhett’s a great shortstop and I know he’s there for me and has my back to make a play.”
Live (15-6) improved to 5-0 this season in games decided by one run. The Eagles concluded a successful week in which they were 3-1, bouncing back from Friday’s 5-3 home loss to defending Division II state champion Teurlings Catholic.
“Our pitching’s been too inconsistent,” Cassard said. “Offensively, I think we’ve done a decent job. Against Teurlings we didn’t execute. There six bunts we missed. Offensively we’re still trying to find a way to score runs. Our pitchers need to do a better job of pounding the strike zone.”
Brant Smith’s two-run homer – his third of the year – gave Live Oak a 3-0 lead in the third inning.
Hahnville (5-14) scored four times on two hits in the fourth, taking advantage of three walks and a hit batsman.
Palermo had faced the minimum number of batters through three innings, getting a pick off of Chacon who singled to lead off the game, and kept Hahnville scoreless on 32 pitches.
He then ran into trouble in the fourth, allowing the first seven batters to successfully reach base when the Tigers took a 4-3 lead on Maxwell Farrell’s two-run single that was chopped back up the middle.
“That’s not winning baseball,” Cassard said of the three walks and hit batter in the inning. “We talk a lot about the playoffs. We’re preparing for the playoffs. We’re not just playing Hahnville, we’re trying to get better so we can be good in the playoffs.”
Live Oak, which outhit Hahnville 10-7, responded with three runs in its half of the fourth to regain the lead for good.
The Eagles had two hits, including Jake Burchfield’s bunt that chopped over the head of pitcher Cameron Schmill charging off the mound, to tie the game at 4-4. Rosevear enabled the Eagles to take the lead at 5-4 with an RBI groundout and Cam Dickerson added an unearned run on a throwing error.
Palermo and Burchfield each had two hits along with Dupont, who made his biggest impact three innings later with the game on the line.
“He just throws so many strikes that he makes you do something with the bat and it’s hard to get timing on it,” Cassard said. “He’s a bulldog. He’s one of the best that I’ve had and he’s only a sophomore.”