Ruston pitcher David Michael Burkhalter was in such command of Tuesday’s bi-district playoff game against No.25-seed Walker that the senior didn’t need a lot of run support.
His Bearcat teammates gave him plenty anyway, and Burkhalter pitched a three-hit shutout to lead Ruston by Walker 10-0 in six innings.
Burkhalter went the distance, retiring the first 10 batters he faced Tuesday. Walker starting pitcher Bryce Tassin hit a double in the top of the fourth inning to break up the no-hitter, but the Wildcats (18-16) never got more than a single hit in a given inning, as Burkhalter helped Ruston to their 15th win in their last 17 games.
“(Burkhalter) was in control the whole game,” Ruston coach Toby White said. “We were able to scratch a couple runs across in the third (inning) and that allowed him to not play tight.”
Ruston (23-11) broke open a scoreless game in the third inning. Center fielder Ben Leblanc got things started with a double and then later scored on a double by Burkhalter. Left fielder Garrett Soileau followed with an RBI single and the early 2-0 lead.
Ruston broke out the offense in a big way in the fifth inning with five runs on five hits, including a grand slam by second baseman Caden Doga and then an RBI double by Leblanc.
Doga, Seth White, and Wilkerson then hit consecutive RBI singles in the bottom of the sixth inning to invoke the 10-run mercy rule.
Doga led the way for Ruston, going 2-for-4 and five RBI.
“(Doga) came up huge for us,” White said. “Hopefully that gives us some momentum going forward. You will see some good pitching in the playoffs.”
Burkhalter went six innings giving up no runs and striking out five.
It took Ruston some time to get to Tassin,who left in the fourth inning after getting a good start until the Bearcats broke through in the third.
“(Tassin) was working both sides of the plate,” White said. “Our kids made some good adjustments, and we were fortunate to be able to give (Burkhalter) some breathing room.”
Ruston will now host a best-of-3 series against defending Class 5A champion and No. 9 seed Catholic-Baton Rouge in the second round. The new best-of-3 series format was passed by the LHSAA this past January. It will only apply to Class 5A in the second and quarterfinals before teams advance to the state tournament.
Since Ruston is the higher seed of the two, the Bearcats will host the series. White said he had not made anything official, but expected the series to begin Friday.
Zachary 5, West Monroe 1
West Monroe exited the playoffs early with a 5-1 loss at Zachary Tuesday night.
The Broncos scored runs in the first three innings off West Monroe starter Dustin Mitchell to keep the Rebels at a distance for most of the game.
Junior Cory Muscleman struck out six West Monroe batters and walked three in his six innings of work.
The Rebels lone run came on a leadoff solo home run in the top of the seventh by designated hitter Jacob Pearson before Zachary closer Micah McHugh came in to close out the game.
West Monroe finishes the year 17-18.