It took a little bit of everything: a heroic pitching effort, clutch hitting and a coaching stratagem with a surprise payoff.
Whittell put it all together and came away with a come-from-behind win in the first game of a Saturday doubleheader at Incline.
Whittell won its first game against Incline 6-4 before 11 defensive errors cost the Warriors a 17-7 nightcap.
WHITTELL 6, INCLINE 4
In a move to reduce errors that have plagued Whittell this season, Coach Thomas Hunter gave Jake Sharp his first start at catcher. The gamble was the sophomore could handle the task owing to Matt Elliott’s great control and the smaller foul area behind home at Incline’s field. The payoff would be a stronger defense up the middle, with Elliott pitching, Robbie Poet at short and Cody Gibson in center.
Elliott took the hill for the red and gold with only two days rest after pitching three innings at Aces Ballpark on Wednesday. Warrior hitters faced Incline’s hard-throwing Tommy Dolan at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds.
The knoll aces dominated early, Dolan striking out the first six batters he faced, Elliott whiffing the side in the 3rd. Neither gave up a hit heading into the bottom of the fourth in a scoreless game.
Incline broke through first. An outfield error and hit batsman set the table for Masxsimo Battel. The Highlander’s junior swung hard at an Elliott fastball and nubbed a slow roller along third for the game’s first hit, also bringing home the first run for Incline. Owen Graffis followed with a perfect squeeze bunt and Incline led 2-0.
The Warriors rallied back. With two out and no one on, Kody Dangtongdee and Sharp, hitting in the ninth position due to his catching assignment, each walked giving leadoff hitter Cody Gibson a chance to face Dolan for the third time. The senior lefty responded with a booming triple to left-center, breaking up the no-hitter and tying the game 2-2.
Bur hurlers Elliott and Dolan regained command — Elliott breezing through the fifth, and Dolan striking out the Warrior side for the third time in the sixth inning.
In the home half of the sixth, Incline took the lead again when Tommy Thompson and Cam Powell smacked consecutive doubles. Later in the frame, an error allowed Powell to score and the Highlanders headed to the seventh leading 4-2.
The Warriors were down to their last chance with the bottom of their order due up. They were facing a pitcher, Dolan, who had allowed just one hit while striking out 16 and now held a two-run lead.
But Whittell is used to fighting back.
Quinn Kixmiller worked his way on with a walk. Dangtongdee also coaxed a free pass from Dolan, who had now thrown 117 pitches and was relieved by Battel. One out later, Gibson ripped a double to the gap in right, bringing in Kixmiller, but Incline still led 4-3.
One batter later Elliott walked to the plate with two outs. The powerful junior was walked intentionally to load the bases for Poet. The lanky senior rapped a hard grounder to deep short that was fielded cleanly, but Poet streaked down the line to beat the throw at first by half a step. The score was now knotted at 4-4.
Normally, with Elliott pitching, Poet would have spent the game squatting behind the plate. With Sharp back there, however, he was at shortstop. Could his lighter defensive load have made that half-step difference and kept Whittell alive?
Now Alex Barnes was up. Incline knew to pitch him carefully, as Barnes had four RBI with a bases-loaded double in their game on Wednesday. But Barnes also had a keen batting eye. He drew a walk sending in the go-ahead run for the Warriors, 5-4. Avery Laub was next up. The senior third sacker nearly broke the game open when he ripped a drive to left that hooked foul by about a foot. Instead, Laub was hit by a pitch and Whittell moved ahead by two. Thompson relieved for Incline to finally retire the side with the Warriors on top 6-4.
Now it was Incline’s turn. In the home half of the seventh, a tiring Elliott took the mound, pitching his 10th consecutive inning for Whittell over two games. Pinch hitter Austin Sneed walked and Clothier legged an infield hit to put the tying runs aboard, but Elliott gutted out. He got the last two outs in order, stranding the tying runs in scoring position and leaving the dangerous Dolan in the on-deck circle when the game ended.
Elliott threw 111 pitches, allowed only four hits, while striking out 15. Gibson knocked in three with his double and triple and scored a run. Poet’s seventh inning single was the only other hit for Whittell. He also added a stolen base. Dangtongdee scored twice for Whittell in their two-run victory.
INCLINE 17, WHITTELL 7
The Saturday setting at Incline was perfect for a double-header and the nightcap featured less suspense, but hitting galore for both sides.
Whittell started the fireworks in their first at bat with Elliott launching a prodigious two-run homer to left center that cleared the scoreboard and landed on the nearby little league field. The Warriors would have had more had not Battel robbed Gibson of extra bases with a circus catch in center field to start the game. Though the red and gold led 2-0, it would be their only lead of the game.
In the home half of the first, the Highlanders batted around with Jack Clouthier singling and Powell, Dolan, Battel and Ben Snider all hammering doubles. Sneed added another single, and Incline grabbed the lead, 5-2.
But Whittell never gave up, scoring in each of the first four innings. In the second, Kixmiller powered a triple to right that nearly cleared the fence for a homer. The freshman later scored to keep the Warriors close at 5-3.
Again Incline answered, scoring twice on RBI hits by Powell and Dolan.
Whittell up: another score, this time Poet doubling home Elliott who had singled ahead of him. Incline leading 7-4.
Whittell in the 4th: Gibby drilled a double off the fence in left, Poet another RBI with a single. It was now 7-5 as the Warriors drew closer.
Incline answered in the bottom though. After Sharp robbed Thompson with a diving catch in center field (see photo), Powell and Battel smacked hits. Two errors and a Sneed single later, the Highlanders had scored three runs and stretched their lead to 10-5.
In the sixth Elliott unloaded his second two-run homer of the game, a parabolic shot deep into the forest beyond the center field fence. The red and gold scored their final two runs to close the gap to 10-7.
But Incline delivered a seven-run knockout blow in its half of the inning. Snider, Ken Saveliff, Clouthier and Thompson all delivered hits. Dolan crushed a bases-loaded double to send all three runners home and Graffis delivered the game-winning double.
For Whittell, Elliott had a single to go with his two homers, scoring three times with four RBI. Gibby scored twice, had two hits and was robbed of a third. Poet was 4-for-4 with two doubles, two RBI and a run scored. Kixmiller’s triple and Barnes’ single accounted for the other Warrior hits.
“Everyone is starting to hit, which is nice, but we should have won both those games,” Hunter said. “If we make half the errors we made we have a great chance of winning that game.”
The win was Whittell’s seventh of the year, the most since they finished third in state three years ago.
UP NEXT: Playoffs begin on Friday with a road trip to North Tahoe Friday and Saturday.