Incline baseball clinches No. 2 seed in furious finish to regular season
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Incline closed out the baseball regular season this week and put its best foot forward despite a furious sprint to the finish.
The Highlanders finished the season by playing nine games in 11 days, and split a doubleheader Tuesday with North Tahoe, to clinch a No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
Nine games. Eleven days.
Pitch counts are limited in high school, and not everyone is a born hurler.
And then sometimes a team runs into an umpire whose strike zone may be a touch tight and the teams combine to walk nearly 30 hitters, like what happened during the Highlanders series last weekend at West Wendover.
That’s a lot of pitches.
Incline head coach Billy Knight is going to need the next two weeks off before postseason begins to manage his stress as much as the team. He can stop counting pitches in his sleep.
“We just finished a long stretch where we played seven games in one week,” Knight said in between games from Governor’s Field in Carson City, after the Highlanders rolled to a 19-0 victory in the opener. “We had some adversity with pitching. We had some adversity with just playing good baseball. I’m kind of hoping that a game like we had today will kind of help get the kids out of the funk and get them moving. It’s nice to have this wrapped up now. I get to rest arms and some kids are not feeling well. Pitchers that we’re going to rely on that aren’t feeling real good. So we need some time to get them all right. We’re going to use the next week and a half to get everyone healthy and get fine tuned and give the playoffs a good go.”
Incline senior Jacob Leoncio is thrilled with clinching to No. 2 seed for the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association 2A Northern League Championship tournament that takes place Friday and Saturday, May 10-11, at Yerington High School.
Leoncio, who went 3 for 3 in Game 1 and 2 for 4 in the 15-5 five-inning nightcap loss said he couldn’t ask for a better senior season.
“I’m super proud, coming in and clinching second is quite nice,” said Leoncio, one of four seniors on the team. “I’m really proud of the boys.”
Leoncio has been tearing up opposing pitching all season with a .512 batting average, but somehow on a slugging team that boasts a .398 team average, that’s only second best to junior Jake Harrell’s .529.
Leoncio leads Incline in runs scored with 26 and Harrell has plated him a bunch of times with team leading 30 RBIs.
Harrell, who drove in three runs in the opener and sat in Game 2 as Knight emptied his bench with nothing on the line, is happy to clinch a playoff berth, but wanted, and wants, more.
“We’re proud, but we should be the one seed,” Harrell said. “And we have to have that mentality.”
North Tahoe freshman starter Tanner Wilkins was effective for the first four innings, getting impatient Incline hitters to lunge and swing at borderline pitches.
The Highlanders lead just 4-0 after four innings, but after changing their approach at the plate from crazy aggressive to patient, they enjoyed massive success and didn’t make an out through the first time through the lineup.
North Tahoe used five pitchers in the inning and watched as 15 Highlanders crossed the plate.
“I think we started out not concentrating,” Leoncio said. “We loosened up a bit — North Tahoe is our rival and we came out a little tense — but once we loosened up we started playing our game.”
At the plate for Incline (16-4 Northern League), Jacob Collins had two hits, senior Dalton Fry scored three runs, senior Zach Poalillo smashed a double and drove in two, Gage Pierce singled and drove in two and Brayden Hock doubled and scored twice.
Incline’s fourth senior, Trent Green, made some big pitches over three scoreless innings to earn the victory.
Green allowed three hits and a walk while striking out two, including one with the bases loaded and the score 3-0.
He pumped his fist and smiled at his catcher Brayden Hock as he jogged off the mound.
The Highlanders after Tuesday have 16 days before the playoffs begin.
Yerington (13-1 Northern) still has six games remaining and its mathematically possible for the Highlanders to finish in first, but unlikely.
West Wendover (10-4 Northern) is likely headed for the No. 3 seed and would be Incline’s first round opponent.
North Tahoe (8-6 Northern) and Battle Mountain (7-10 Northern) are vying for the fourth and final seed.
“We’ve got a really good opportunity here,” Knight said. “Teams don’t normally play great from the beginning to the end of the season. And we’re a fine example of that. We had a little stumble and I’m hoping once we’re recharged we can get things back to the way they should be and get on a little roll to get through regionals and state. It’s a great group. We just need to regain the focus that this is a team effort and we’re all in this together.”
“This season’s been good,” Harrell said. “There’s been a little adversity but mostly we play loose and have fun, and when we do that, we play our best.”