Captain Shreve’s experienced lineup is becoming quite familiar with fashioning late-inning rallies.
For the second time in four days, the Gators needed to string together a seventh-inning rally to notch a District 1-5A win.
Thanks to an RBI bunt single by pitcher Fielding Matkins, the Gators edged Airline, 3-2, in the unseasonably cool opener of a three-game district series Thursday night at Airline.
“We’ve got a bunch of seniors and guys who have been getting reps,” said Matkins, who also tossed a complete game with 10 strikeouts to earn the victory. “They know what their role is. We’re starting to come together as a team, but I don’t think we’ve played our best ball yet.”
Matkins (5-1) was a key part of Thursday night’s win, minimizing some early damage and pushing through 120 pitches, as the Gators improved to 17-8 overall and 7-0 in District 1-5A play.
The Gators and Vikings (12-10, 3-4) will pass the halfway point of the district season tonight when they meet at Captain Shreve.
Airline right-hander Landon Lewis (5-1) made things tough on the Gators, matching Matkins pitch for pitch, scattering three hits and striking out six.
A season-long issue for Airline, however, cropped up again Thursday night. The Vikings committed three errors, which led to two unearned runs against Lewis, who tossed a complete game, scattering three hits and striking out six.
“We continue to shoot ourselves in the foot with one or two plays in a game,” Airline coach Toby Todd said. “That’s all. Beyond that, we’re playing pretty good baseball. (Lewis) throws almost lights-out for almost every game he goes out there, but it’s two or three hiccups, for lack of a better word, that get us.”
Matkins’ perfect squeeze bunt came after Shreve loaded the bases with one out on a hit batter, a walk and a Cole Miller single.
Matkins dropped Lewis’ first pitch inside the first-base line and was safe when no one was there to take Lewis’ throw.
“They went from the wind-up, which allowed us to get a little more of a jump in case he didn’t bunt it perfectly,” Captain Shreve coach Todd Sharp said. “It worked out. It was tough scoring runs both ways. Neither one of us drove the ball. We relied on the other team to make a miscue, and we made our own. They made a couple. We were fortunate to come out on top, because Lewis threw a tremendous game against us.”
Matkins scattered seven hits in his complete game but consistently found ways to work out of trouble. He induced a double play in the second, picked off a runner to end the fifth and finished the game by not allowing a hit in the final 2 1-3 innings of a chilly night where the temperature never reached 50 degrees.
Matkins credited a bit of major-league advice he heard during a television interview with one of baseball’s top pitchers for building his game plan Thursday night.
“I watched (Justin) Verlander talk the other day on ESPN, and he said, ‘Don’t throw max effort early,'” Matkins said. “(Thursday night) it worked out.”