Tigers' Young keeps Mules under control

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Central senior starter Lance Young credits his success this season to improved control.

The Tigers' No. 2 hurler sported better than a 3-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio heading into Friday's SEMO Conference Tournament quarterfinal game against Poplar Bluff at Central.

Young proceeded to strike out 10 and walk none as the top-seeded Tigers posted a 7-3 victory over the No. 8 Mules.

"This has been my best season so far," Young said. "I'm not walking many people. I don't think I walked one today. That was a problem last year, but I've cut back on that."

Central will play No. 4 Notre Dame at noon today in a semifinal at Central. Another semifinal between No. 7 Sikeston and No. 3 Kennett will follow at 2 p.m.

Poplar Bluff certainly had its chances against Young on Friday, banging out nine hits. Young made the Mules put the ball in play, and with the help of a near-flawless performance in the field was able to keep the Tigers in the game.

Through three innings, Young had already struck out seven Poplar Bluff batters. The strike zone was wide for both teams, something Young took advantage of.

"I liked having that wide zone, it helped me out a lot," Young said. "When it's wide like that, the hitters start swinging at the outside stuff."

Young had just two problem innings, giving up seven hits in the fourth and fifth innings combined. An error in Poplar Bluff's two-run fifth did not help, but much of the Mules' damage was done with Young pitching behind in the count.

"When I got ahead it was easy," Young said. "When I fell behind I had bad innings, like that one [the fifth]. But when I got ahead it was smooth sailing."

Central gave Young an early lead with a first-inning home run from senior Ty Craft. The blast, which just cleared the left-field fence, was the first of the season for Craft.

The teams exchanged runs in the fourth, with Tyler Bruce putting Central ahead 2-1 with a two-out triple to deep center. Poplar Bluff took its first lead in the top of the fifth thanks on a two-run single by Brennen Moore.

Mules starter Seth Blackwell allowed just three hits heading into the bottom of the fifth. Frank Soltys, Central's No. 9 hitter, started the inning with a walk, and Matt Hester followed with a double. Blake Slattery followed with an RBI single, and Hester also scored when the ball was mishandled in the outfield. Slattery scored on a wild pitch to put the Tigers ahead 5-3. Craft added a bunt single, and Brad LaBruyere ended Blackwell's day with a two-run home run.

Walks started Central's last two scoring innings, something which was not lost on Tigers coach Steve Williams.

"They both scored [the hitters who walked], and it seems like it's that way every time," Williams said. "You walk someone or make an error, and it seems like they always score."

After the Tigers grabbed the lead, Young retired the final six Mules, three on strikeouts. The win moved Young's record to 4-1.

"The key to that wasn't the 10 strikeouts he got, but the zero walks," Williams said. "He made Bluff earn everything they got. They did earn three, but we were able to earn more."

Bruce, Craft and Slattery had two hits apiece to lead the Tigers' eight-hit attack. Soltys, who has struggled at the plate this season, also reached base twice with a walk and a single.

"We've got a lot of good hitters," Bruce said. "It's about all of us hitting."

Added Williams: "That was key for Frank to get on because that flipped the lineup over. Tyler Bruce just crushed the ball in center. That was big for us to get back the momentum."

Moore led the Mules with three hits, and Adam Ivie added a pair of singles.

The game had a much different feel from the first meeting between the two teams, a 13-4 win for the Tigers. Central outhit the Mules 13-6 in the previous meeting. "It really had a good tournament feel today," Williams said. "Both teams were into it, and the crowd was into it."

Central 7, Poplar Bluff 3

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WP -- Lance Young, 4-1. LP -- Blackwell. HR -- Ty Craft (C), Brad LaBruyere (C). 2B -- Matt Hester (C), Brennen Moore (P). 3B -- Tyler Bruce (C). Multiple hits -- Poplar Bluff, Moore 3-4; Adam Ivie 2-4; # 5 2-3; Central, Craft 2-4; Bruce 2-3; Blake Slattery 2-4. Records -- Central 15-4, Poplar Bluff 0-0.

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