CENTRAL -- In the span of less than 24 hours Zachary – the nation’s No. 13 ranked team according to MaxPreps.com – went from one extreme to another.
Pitcher Tanner Hall came on in relief Thursday to help the Broncos survive a bases-loaded, none-out situation and preserve a narrow road victory over Denham Springs High.
A day later there were no such 11th-hour dramatics.
Zachary scored in three of the first 4 innings and locked up the District 4-5A championship with an eight-run 5th inning in a 13-0 mercy-rule, road victory Friday over Central.
“We took care of it in eight games, but our district is tough,” Zachary coach Jacob Fisher said. “Every game, there were opportunities for us to lose a game. The ball bounced our way and we were able to come away with the victory. We may be 8-0 in district, but we didn’t cruise through it by any means.”
Fisher acknowledged there was an obvious carry-over effect from Hall’s performance against DSHS.
“Tanner’s outing built up a lot of momentum heading into this game,” Fisher said.
Zachary, the state’s No. 1 team in the Class 5A unofficial power ratings, was efficient in the early innings, taking a 1-0 lead, adding a pair of runs in both the 3rd and 4th until batting around and blowing it wide open an inning later.
The Broncos (29-2, 8-0 in 4-5A) collected 13 hits, had eight different players drive in runs and winning pitcher Nathan Keller gave another superlative effort in his 4-inning outing with reliever Collier Cranford helping the Broncos register their eight shutout of the season.
“It’s one of those games where we’ve got to learn from it,” said Central coach Mike Forbes, whose team suffered its worst loss of the season. The Wildcats lost earlier games to Zachary 7-2 and 10-3. “If we want to achieve the goals we set out before the season, we’ve got to get to that level and raise our level of play in games like this.”
A game after the Broncos were guilty of six errors that enabled Denham to nearly recover from a six-run deficit, Central (20-9-1, 5-3) wasn’t so fortunate.
Zachary scored a pair runs on ground balls that never left the infield – Keilon Brown’s slow 1st-inning one-hopper that made it 1-0, while Joey Blanchard’s groundout added another run in the 3rd.
Brown (3-for-4, SB) was one of five players with multiple hits along with first baseman Tyler Jackson (2-3), catcher Alex Milazzo (2-4) and second baseman Rhett Hebert (2-2, 2 SBs).
In between Milazzo, an LSU commitment, drilled a RBI single to left in the 3rd inning and designated hitter Dylan Jackson increased his team’s lead to 4-0 with a two-out, two-run double and Hebert followed with a run-scoring single.
For Dylan Jackson, it was a memorable occasion with the sophomore making his first varsity state in a make-shift lineup with senior center fielder River Town missing his second game with a pulled hamstring.
That enabled Jackson to move into the starting lineup with Brown moving from right field to center, Sam Cottano starting in left and Creed David moving from left to right.
Dylan Jackson doubled twice in his first three varsity plate appearances and drove in three runs.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a while,” Jackson said. “I was just looking to take advantage of it. It felt really good to get out there and show what I could do.”
Fisher said Jackson’s performance was indicative of how his team has executed this season when faced with key injuries.
“We’ve talked about opportunities and when you get them you have to make the most of them and live in the moment,” Fisher said. “The coaching staff and the rest of the team has 100% confidence that you’ll get the job done. Overall this year it has been the next guy up with guys injured or just coming into pinch-hitting situations.”
Keller (7-1) picked up his second win of the week after limiting Walker to one hit in a 13-1 run-rule triumph on Tuesday. After throwing 30 of 40 pitches for strikes in that game, the right-hander limited Central to singles by Quint Guerin and Carlton Balthazar after allowing back-to-back walks in the bottom of the 1st inning.
Keller, who threw 42 of 57 pitches for strikes, struck out 6 and didn’t allow a base runner beyond second base. Cranford allowed a two-out single in the 5th inning but handled a grounder to end the game.
“We want to compete every pitch,” Forbes said. “Keller did a great job of mixing in multiple pitches and we really didn’t have an answer for him. We didn’t really compete at the plate to give ourselves a chance to scratch any runs.”
Zachary sent 13 batters to the plate in the 5th inning and collected eight hits against three Central pitchers, including eight straight during one stretch.
Losing pitcher Dalton Aspholm (2-3) allowed 9 runs (7 earned) on 11 hits with 4 strikeouts and 2 walks.
Pinch-hitter Maverick McClure greeted reliever Todd Lasseigne with a bases-clearing triple into the right-field corner to make the score 9-0 followed by Dylan Jackson’s RBI double and a two-run single from pinch-hitter Gentry Stevens.
“We were up 6-0 against Denham and that’s when the mistakes happened,” Fisher said. “When we got the lead (Friday), we told our guys we had to keep our foot on the pedal and keep rolling.”
Both teams get back to 4-5A action at home on Tuesday – the Broncos vs. Live Oak at 6 p.m. and Central when it hosts Walker at 6:30 p.m.
ZACHARY 13, CENTRAL 0 (5)
Zachary 102 28 -- 13 13 0
Central 000 00 -- 0 3 1
Nathan Keller, Collier Cranford (5) and Alex Milazzo; Dalton Aspholm, Todd Lasseigne (5), Andrew Cangelosi (5) and Gabe Patterson. W – Keller (7-1). L – Aspholm (2-3). 2B: Zachary – Dylan Jackson 2. 3B: Zachary – Maverick McClure. Records: Zachary 29-2, 8-0 District 4-5A; Central 20-9-1, 5-3. Up next: Live Oak at Zachary, 6 p.m., Tuesday; Walker at Central, 6:30 p.m., Tuesday.