Sterlington 4, Doyle 0
Kyle Dolecheck unloaded a three-run triple during a four-run fifth inning and Casey Sutton allowed only three base runners as Sterlington blanked Doyle 4-0 Friday afternoon in the opening round of the Class 2A state playoffs.
Sutton, who signed with Hinds (Miss.) Community College Friday morning, was masterful yet again. Running his record to 12-0, the 6-foot-4 righthander struck out 10, gave up two hits and faced only two three-ball counts the entire game during an efficient 80-pitch outing.
Sterlington (24-9) couldn't generate much offense against Doyle's Jacob Buchanan, either. Like Sutton, the junior lefty yielded only two hits. For a moment, it looked as if the Panthers might win the game despite being no-hit.
Sutton and Buchanan traded donuts until Buchanan, who walked seven and struck out four, ran into control problems with two down in the bottom of the fifth.
Devon Murphy drew a one-out walk and stole second standing up. One out later, the Tigers (15-15) opted to intentionally walk Taylor Lockwood after Buchanan fell behind in the count, 2-0.
"They weren't going to let Lockwood beat them," said Sterlington coach Randy Carr of the decision to put Lockwood aboard.
Both runners moved up on the double steal, before Mills walked to fill the bases. Next up, Austin Haman ran the count full on his way to working a bases-loaded walk, forcing Murphy across with the first run of the game.
Dolecheck, the Panthers' cleanup batter, then drove a two-strike offering into the right-center alley for a three-run triple.
"(Buchanan) threw me two curve balls (for strikes), so I was just trying to fight off anything he threw," Dolecheck said. "Then he threw me a perfect fastball and I was able to drive it. I knew it had a chance when I first hit it, so I got on my horse. By the time I got to first base, I was pretty much flying because I knew it was going to drop."
Holding a 4-0 lead with Sutton on the mound, the Panthers felt close to invincible.
"Casey's tough anyway, but he's like a shark — he smells blood — once he gets the lead," Carr said Friday morning, shortly after Sutton's signing ceremony.
Added Dolecheck: "You get a couple of runs with Casey and he's almost unbeatable in my opinion."
As the Panthers' catcher, Dolecheck has witnessed Sutton's incredible season from the best venue in the house.
"He's been in the zone all year," Dolecheck said. "He goes out there and does exactly what he's supposed to do every time he takes the mound. I love to catch him. I don't hardly have to move the mitt most of the time."
True to form, given a lead to work with, Sutton retired the final six batters in order to seal the verdict.
With one out in the Panthers' sixth, Sutton singled to left and Murphy walked, but Buchanan was able to avoid further damage.
"(Buchanan) did a great job against us," Carr said. "Hats off to the young man and coach (Tim) Beatty. They came to play baseball today."
To their credit, the opportunistic Panthers were able to capitalize on their one big chance.
"We got the big hit when we had to," Carr said. "They helped us with the walks, but give our kids credit for not swinging at bad pitches and taking advantage of what they were given."
Dolecheck made the walks hurt even worse.
"Somebody had to come through for us. Dolecheck had a triple against (Tate) Scioneaux last year," Carr said, recalling last year's 4-2 second round loss to Riverside. "As soon as he hit the ball today, I said, 'That ball is hurt.' I put a lot on our seniors and today two of them really came through for us."
Buchanan accounted for both of the Tigers' hits with a one-out, opposite-field single to shallow left in the second and a two-out base hit up the middle in the fourth.
Tyler Dawsey, Buchanan's courtesy runner, swiped second in the second, but Sutton responded with back-to-back punchouts.
Dolecheck reached on a one-out error, leading off the home half of the second and stole his way into scoring position, but was left stranded.
Savoy Hilton was safe on an error to start the third and moved into scoring position on Cody Brown's sacrifice bunt and took third on Justin Ridgell's groundout to first baseman Kyle Vandergracht. Taking over from there, Sutton recorded his second straight inning-ending punchout.
Buchanan pitched around a one-out walk to Allen Anders in the Sterlington third.
Buchanan singled with two down in the Doyle fourth and Dawsey moved into scoring position on a wild pitch, but it would be the Tigers' final scoring opportunity of the day. Finishing strong, Sutton sat down the final 10 Doyle batters.
NEXT: Sterlington now advances to play University High, a 4-0 winner over DeQuincy, on Tuesday at 4 p.m. in Baton Rouge.
With the Cubs (26-6) playing DeQuincy on Thursday, U-High coach Burke Broussard made the trip north to scout the Sterlington-Doyle game.
"We have a huge challenge in front of us, but I think our guys are up for the challenge," Carr said. "I've been friends with Burke Broussard for 100 years. I'd do anything for that dude except let him win Tuesday."
University defeated the Panthers 21-16 in the Trey Altick Classic at Panther Park. In contrast to the March 2 contest, it's safe to say that both teams will employ their frontline pitchers Tuesday.