DENHAM SPRINGS – The smell of hot leather was a lot closer than Denham Springs pitcher Dalton Diez would have liked.
“It was definitely self-defense,” Diez said afterward.
When Zachary’s Keilon Brown scorched a line drive back up the middle, Diez said the quick reflex of his right hand was all he could do to protect himself in a vulnerable moment.
In the process it may have very well saved the game with Denham Springs already trailing by three runs and Zachary threatening for more.
Diez turned Brown’s potential run-producing hit into a key double play in the second inning, taking the starch out of Zachary’s opportunity and jump-starting Denham Springs which rallied for a 4-3 victory Saturday in District 4-5A play at North Park’s A.B. Netterville Field.
“That was scary up there,” Diez said. “It went in my glove and we turned the double play and it helped out that inning a lot with bases loaded and no outs. After I got over the initial shock of it, it helped out.”
Diez (2-1) followed his game-changing defensive gem by getting a ground ball to end the inning. He didn’t allow Zachary another run during his six-inning outing, yielding the Broncos only three hits after the second inning.
Denham Springs (12-9) scored twice in the fifth inning to tie the game and scored the go-ahead run on a two-out fielding error in the sixth with Tyler Evans scoring from third base.
It capped quite a week for the Yellow Jackets, who won three times, sweeping a pair of home league games to remained tied for the 4-5A lead with Walker (7-17, 2-0).
“We dodged a bullet a little bit in the second inning,” Denham Springs coach Mark Carroll said. “Then our confidence kind of started kicking back in a little bit.”
Conversely, it was a deflating sequence for Zachary (17-8) which opened league play Thursday with a 7-2 home loss to Walker.
The Broncos, who went undefeated in winning the 4-5A crown last year, are 0-2 in league play after a sterling 19-1 mark over the previous two seasons.
“That’s back to back games,” Zachary coach Jacob Fisher said. “We had the bases loaded (against Walker) and Keilon hits a missile to the first baseman and they get out of the jam. Right there again is a double-play ball. We didn’t slow our feet at second base, and we got doubled up. That’s another key point to the game.”
Zachary was on the cusp of possibly blowing the game open, having built a 3-0 lead when Kyle Landry drove in Jayden Williams with a single to center.
The Broncos had their first four batters successfully reach base in the inning until Diez’s heroic play on Brown’s liner. He got LSU signee Alex Milazzo to ground out to Noah Juan at third base three pitches later.
Diez, who threw 37 pitches through two innings, held Zachary’s lineup scoreless over his next four innings of work, doing so on 35 pitches. He picked off a runner in the third and didn’t allow a runner past second base to finish with eight hits allowed, two strikeouts, a hit batter and one walk.
“Getting ahead, working ahead and locating the fastball,” Diez explained of his effectiveness after the second inning. “I didn’t have that in the first couple of innings and I started getting in a groove after that.”
Carroll credited his team’s recent play – a season-high four-game win streak – to its improving health.
Designated hitter Matt Delaney was a prime example, returning to the starting lineup for the first time this season on Thursday and provided a spark in the team’s two-run fifth with a lead-off single.
Courtesy runner Trey Cambre, the 400-meter winner at last Wednesday’s parish track meet, took over at first, moved to second on an errant pick-off attempt and scored on Smith’s single to right field.
LSU signee Cade Doughty followed an out later with a sharp single up the middle off Zachary’s losing pitcher Tanner Hall into center field, tying the game at 3-all.
Hall allowed nine hits over six innings, four runs (two earned) with one walk and four strikeouts.
Denham Springs took its first lead in the sixth, ignited by Tyler Evans’ lead-off single to center. He moved to second on Brennan Hall’s sacrifice bunt, to third on Delaney’s groundout and scored the go-ahead run on a fielding error off of Reese Smith’s bat.
Doughty came in and nailed down his third save of the season, stranding two runners in scoring position. He got Dylan Jackson to ground out back to the mound, enabling the Yellow Jackets to snap a six-game losing streak against the Broncos dating to 2015.
“We kept telling them the whole time it’s going to be a seven-inning game,” Carroll said. “Make it a seven-inning game, give yourself a chance to win in the seventh.”
Thanks to Diez’s pivotal play five innings earlier that made it all possible.