Experience paid dividends for the Crofton Blue Jays Saturday.
Crofton, the out-of-state South Dakota State Amateur Baseball Tournament regulars who have made it a habit of making lengthy runs in the year-end event, used a four-hit shutout from veteran Scot Donner and scratched out two runs to edge a scrappy Salem club for a 2-0, first-round victory at Cadwell Park.
In a close game, Cubs manager Cole Cheeseman said the experience from Crofton probably gave them a key edge, capitalizing on a few Salem (7-18) mistakes from a team making its first state appearance since 2013.
“We’re so young,” Cheeseman said. “Today, we had four of our starters aren’t even 21 in the starting lineup. I expect us to be here in the future and it’s good experience for us at the end of the day.
The pitchers for both teams dueled for the first five innings, with Donner and Cubs’ starter Garrison Collier both dealing strikeouts. Crofton broke through in the sixth, with Tyler Zimmerman scoring Donner from third base with the bases loaded on a sacrifice fly to center. It was the run that Donner said his offense promised they’d get.
“Early on, it was a little nerve-racking when we kept going 1-2-3, 1-2-3 on the offensive end,” he said. “I just knew to keep grinding, our offense pulls through and sometimes it takes our guys a little while to get going but I knew our team would eventually score a run.”
Collier didn’t allow the Blue Jays much, scattering 10 hits and striking out nine.
“He’s gutsy,” Cheeseman said. “When he takes the mound, you know you’re going to be getting a good performance out of him and I would take him as one of the top pitchers in the state. He’s going to come out and give it his all.
Crofton padded its lead in the ninth inning. With Brandon Hegge on second base and two outs, Austin Hegge’s fly ball to short right field fell between the second baseman and right fielder, allowing Hegge to come around to score to make it 2-0.
Donner finished the game with 112 pitches, striking out nine.
“He was doing well of getting ahead in the count and he was good with his location in there too,” Cheeseman said of Donner. “We wish we could have hit better in a state tournament game and we didn’t do that and that means we’re going home.”
Offensively, Donner, Austin Hegge, Kyle Mueller each had two hits. The Cubs had hits from David Novak, Steve Mehlbrech, Tyler Earl and Isaac Anderson.
Crofton (17-3) will face the winner of the Dimock/Emery and Dell Rapids Mudcats contest at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.