Whether hitting or pitching in the ninth inning Thursday evening, Benton’s Jordan Shaffer had one thought.
“I was thinking, ‘Let’s go out there and win this game,'” Shaffer said.
He did just that. After working a scoreless ninth inning of relief, Shaffer singled home the winning run in the bottom of the inning, lifting Benton to a 1-0 win against Salmen in the first round of the Class 4A baseball playoffs.
“Best 28th seed I’ve ever seen,” Benton coach J.D. Stephens said of the visiting Spartans. “They battled. They did a great job. (Salmen pitcher Cody Campo) did a good job mixing up pitches.”
Shaffer (7-1) followed Aaron Henigan, who scattered three hits and struck out seven in eight scoreless innings, matching Campo pitch for pitch.
Both Shaffer and Henigan had help from their defense. Shaffer allowed only one hit in the ninth, and center fielder Tyler Stephens, who entered the game in the top of the ninth, turned it into an out with a perfect throw to third base to cut down courtesy runner Bryce Darby, who was running for Campo.
“I just cut it off, and I looked up out of the corner of my eye, and I knew I had him,” Stephens said. “I made a good throw, and (third baseman) Jaret (Gill) made a good scoop.”
The out added to Salmen’s base-running struggles. The Spartans (9-20) had two runners picked off, and Benton snuffed out an attempted steal of home that ended the fifth inning.
“One thing, we’ve always been proud of our baserunning,” Salmen coach Brian Babin said. “We’ve thrived on it. (Thursday) it let us down. It’s not something we did or didn’t do, it was what both of those pitchers on the mound did.”
Campo topped 130 pitches by the ninth, and the Tigers rallied. An infield single from T.J. Anderson and an Andrew Cole walk set up Shaffer’s single that sent Benton (26-9) to a date with either Minden or St. Augustine.