SACRAMENTO — Oak Ridge right-fielder Luke Eicher provided the defense, and starting pitcher Austin Ales provided the pitching Saturday at American River College in a convincing 8-1 victory over top-ranked Elk Grove in the second round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I baseball playoffs.
Ales went seven strong innings, striking out six and allowing zero earned-runs with help from a pair of sensational plays from Eicher.
In the bottom of the fifth, with Oak Ridge clinging to a 4-1 lead, Ales dealt a fastball to Thundering Herd shortstop Jorge Vina, who chipped it into shallow right-center field. With two runners aboard, Elk Grove was poised to cut the lead in half until a hard-charging Eicher rushed in to make a run-saving diving catch.
“I knew Cole (Hansen) was there to back me up in center so I just went for it. I wasn’t sure if I could get it but I got a good jump. It was a big play,” Eicher said.
Eicher again sent the Oak Ridge faithful into hysteria in the sixth inning on a home run-stealing catch to rob Elk Grove starting pitcher Ryan Tellez of a potential RBI.
“It means a lot to me on the mound when I see my defense making plays like that,” Ales said.
“That was just an awesome catch,” Trojan coach Todd Melton added.
On the rubber, Ales was as tough as ever. With the exception of a throwing error in the first inning that allowed a run, he kept the Herd off the scoreboard the remainder of the afternoon.
“My fastball was my best pitch today. I didn’t throw a lot of curve balls but I was able to hit my spots with the fastball all day,” Ales said.
Unlike Friday’s win which saw the Oak Ridge offense take advantage of five Davis errors to produce all six of its runs, Saturday’s second round game featured a much more potent Trojan lineup. Second basemen Mason Watkins hit a deep triple into left-center to score Eicher from first, spotting Troy a 5-1 lead in the sixth.
In the Trojans’ final at-bat they made it clear they had no intentions of letting the Herd back into the game, putting up three insurance runs. Hansen delivered a big line drive up the middle that drove in Ales and first basemen Alex Fitchett to cushion Troy’s lead to 8-1.
Designated hitter Zach Mahon kept his hot postseason going with another two-hit day at the plate and Ales helped his own cause with two singles, an RBI and a run scored. Eicher also singled to go along with his outfield heroics.
“We’ve been spectacular down the stretch and we’re very hungry,” Melton said.
The Trojans are expected to meet Jesuit Tuesday night in a game between the Delta River League opponents. See villagelife.com for results.