After being shutdown by Otsego’s Joe Dzierwa in the first game, Evergreen got a shutdown performance of their own on the mound from Landon Vance, and the Vikings got a hit-by-pitch walk-off in the bottom of the seventh for a 3-2 nightcap win to salvage a split in a season-opening doubleheader Saturday at Evergreen.
“Dzierwa is probably a D-1 kid,” Viking coach Mark Cymbolin said of the Knights’ 6’6” lefty who finished with 17 strikeouts while throwing a two-hitter. “He threw first pitch strikes all day and only threw 86 pitches.
“I think the second game we were more relaxed and loose.
“We preached all winter about throwing strikes and getting ahead. Landon did a great job doing that in the second game and put us in a situation to give us a chance to win.”
Early on in the first, Dzierwa and the Vikings’ RJ Shunck — also a 6’6” junior lefty — were unhittable, each striking out five of the first six hitters they faced.
Otsego scratched a run in the third when Drake Ludwig drew a walk, stole second, went to third on a passed ball, and scored on a wild pitch.
Otsego opened a 4-0 lead in the next inning, only getting one hit as the Vikings were their own worst enemy in the field.
“RJ was rolling along, being dominating until that inning,” said Cymbolin. “We didn’t do a very good job helping him out defensively.”
A walk, stolen base, then a ground ball that Vance’s throw pulled Ashton Sayers off the bag put runners at first and second with no one out.
Mason Luttrell’s throw to third when a runner tried to advance was off course scoring a run and Jared Crozier’s two-out bloop single off reliever Nick Smithmyer scored two more.
The Vikes got one back in the bottom of the inning when Brock Hudik singled, stole second and came home on Vance’s line drive single to left.
Otsego got three more in the fifth on two more walks, another error and run-scoring hits from Dzierwa and Devin Coon.
In the second game, Vance and Connor Smith were locked in a scoreless duel until the bottom of the fourth.
A throwing error by Noah Dzierwa on Sayers’ grounder opened the inning and Vance follow with a ringing double down the left field line to score pinch-runner Alex Peete for the game’s first run.
After going to third on a balk, Zack Laver’s sacrifice fly gave Evergreen a 2-0 lead.
The only chink in Vance’s armor came in the sixth when he walked back-to-back hitters with one down and Joe Dzierwa doubled to cut the Viking lead in half.
Ty O’Brien then beat out an infield hit with two down to knot the game back up.
However, Vance blew away the Knights in the seventh giving his team a chance to win in the bottom of the frame.
Joe Mitchey was plunked by a pitch, then Hudik beat out a bunt to put runners on first and second.
Shunck laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt and the Knights walked Sayers intentionally to load the bases and set up a force at the plate.
However on a 1-1 pitch to Vance, Noah Dzierwa’s high and tight delivery was ruled to have hit Vance in the forearm to force in the winning run.
“Landon came back in the second game and threw a lot of strikes and I trust our defense,” explained Cymbolin. “Our defense is pretty good if our pitchers trust them. Throw strikes and we’ll make plays.
“I guess it was a questionable call at the end (whether the pitch hit Vance or his bat) but I’ll take it. We got guys on base, Brock beat out a bunt and RJ did a great job moving them over and we got in a situation where we took advantage.”
Besides knocking in two Viking runs, Vance went the distance, giving up just four hits, walking just two and striking out 11.
Evergreen travels to Swanton this afternoon, Delta Tuesday and plays at Eastwood Friday.