Jordan Shaffer, like his Benton teammates, loves taut, close games.
Less than 24 hours after Shaffer earned the save in a one-run win against Airline, he was back on the mound, pitching Benton to a 2-1, District 1-4A title-clinching victory against Minden on Tuesday.
“I’d rather pitch in a tight game,” Shaffer said after tossing a complete-game, three-hitter. “It’s more pressure on me and more pressure on the team.”
Minden right-hander Carson Bolyer kept things tight, matching Shaffer nearly pitch for pitch.
The Crimson Tide’s undoing, however, came in the form of unearned runs.
Andrew Cole reached on an error to start the game and scored on an RBI groundout by Aaron Sheppard. After Minden (17-9, 6-2) tied things on an RBI groundout by Bolyer in the second inning, a two-out error set up what proved to be the game-winning run.
Aaron Baker made the miscue hurt, shooting a 2-1 pitch to right field to provide Benton (24-9, 10-0) with a 2-1 lead.
“We’ll take ’em however we can get them,” first-year Benton head coach J.D. Stephens said. “That’s the great thing about the schedule we’ve played. We know what it’s like to play one-run baseball games. Sometimes you have to scrap runs across. Even (Monday) night, we struck out 16 times. Find a way to get the timely hits and work from there.”
Shaffer (6-1) needed only one pitch to record the save against Airline on Monday night, but he battled through 111 pitches Tuesday.
Shaffer battled some uncharacteristic command issues early, but once he found his curveball, he truly settled in.
“In the bullpen, everything felt it was working again,” Shaffer said. “First couple of innings, (the curveball) wasn’t there, and I was working off my fastball, trying to find the white. After I got the rhythm with the curveball, it started going over.”
With Bolyer and reliever McCaul Lacobee combining to limit the Tigers to five hits, Minden stayed in the game.
In each of the last two innings, the Tide put its leadoff hitter on base — a Turner Francis double to start the sixth and a Sawyer Stephens single to begin the seventh.
In both cases, Shaffer made what J.D. Stephens called “pitcher’s pitches” and sewed up a perfect district mark for the Tigers.
“Both pitchers did a heck of a job,” Minden coach Dean Francis said. “When you don’t hit, it comes down to routine plays. We just had two plays they capitalized on. It was a heck of a game. Everybody battled, and that’s what you have in a district championship game.”