The Stanfield Tigers are still searching for quality arms to fill in the gaps behind pitching ace Devin Bailey. Tuesday against Riverside, Bryce Linker did his best to sink his fingers into the No. 2 spot while leading the Tigers to a 12-7 victory.
It didn’t start smoothly for the senior, though. His first inning pitches often plunge into the dirt, bouncing along the ground like the jostled tumbleweeds nearby in the forceful wind. Linker walked the first batter of the game in Evan Keefer — who came around to score — but harnessed his control after that point while striking out eight Pirates (2-2) and pitching six strong innings.
“He got comfortable, I think. He just needed to get loose on the cold day, had to throw and get warm,” Stanfield coach Bryan Johnson said. “He gave us some quality innings that we needed, didn’t get his pitch count up too high for early in the season.”
The first baseman blasted a 2-1 pitch from Pirates’ starter Trevor Graff over the centerfield fence for a two-run home run. A steep wind pulled Martinez’s drive from its normal trajectory in right centerfield to dead center, but the slugger had more than enough muscle behind the swing to keep the ball carrying into the parking lot.
It was the grandest moment of a three-hit, three-run and three-RBI day for Martinez. The success of the Tigers at the plate, where they collected 13 hits, came from their ability to stay in at-bats and produce solid contact even on two-strike counts, he said.
“It’s more of a mind game with the pitcher. If you can get (hits) with two strikes, it’s a way of coming back and getting in the pitcher’s head,” said Martinez, who hit both his singles with two strikes. “Usually when you go two
strikes you feel like, ‘Oh no, I’m in a hole.’ It’s good to see the team’s confidence with two strikes.”
But the Pirates weren’t content to go down with the ship. Riverside matched Stanfield’s scoring output in the final two innings, even building a rally in the bottom of the seventh. The Pirates used speed on the base paths to prolong the inning with three steals — part of an eight-steal outing for Riverside.
“We were just trying to keep our heads in it and we stayed with them pretty good, at least better than we have in the past,” said Graff, who pitched six innings and smacked two hits at the plate. “Our whole objective this year is to be really aggressive on the base paths. We were just trying to see what we could make out of that last inning.”
Stanfield’s Dom Renner had a three-hit day and Omar Murillo and Evan Keefer had matching 3-for-4 performances to pace the Pirates at the plate. Keefer stole four bases while Murillo took three.
The last time these two teams met happened in the early season in March 2010. The Tigers and Pirates played that game to a 6-6, seven-inning stalemate in a game called due to darknes.