WENDELL — The Declo High School baseball team needed a doubleheader sweep. That’s exactly what it got.
The Hornets took different routes to a pair of road wins over Canyon Conference rival Wendell on Thursday at Wendell High School. They won the first game 6-5 in eight innings, and dominated the second 13-2 in five frames. The two-team conference is now tied at 2-2 heading into next week’s district tournament.
“It’s a strike-throwing contest,” Declo coach Doug Meyer said. “We just threw more strikes than they did.”
Game one had three acts: a high-scoring start, a shutdown middle and a thrilling end.
Declo roared ahead with a two-run first inning and a three-run second, good for a 5-0 lead. But Wendell responded with a four-run bottom of the second, and they tied it up in the fifth.
Hunter Zacharias played a major role in Wendell’s offensive effort (3-for-4, triple, walk), but his biggest contributions came on the mound. The sophomore replaced Felipe Paniagua and shut down the Hornets from that point forward. He allowed one earned run in 6 2/3 innings.
As strong as that performance was, his mind will linger on the run. After striking out the first batter in the eighth, Zacharias allowed a single, a hit-by-pitch and a walk. His pitch count reached 108 by that point. The state’s single game pitch limit is 110, but pitchers in Zacharias’ situation are allowed to finish the next batter before departing. Hurd elected to do just that.
Zacharias’ control again betrayed him. Trey Smyer walked to give Declo a 6-5 lead and end Zacharias’ day. Fellow sophomore Keeven Lindsay replaced him and plugged the dam.
Lindsay’s scoreless relief appearance looked important a few minutes later. A single, a runner caught stealing and another single brought Zach Wert to the plate. The junior bombed a Clayton Johnson pitch to left-center field, and it one-hopped the fence. That put the potential tying and winning runs in scoring position.
“I thought off the bat it was gonna be a home run, and it would be over,” Meyer said. “We got lucky, I guess.”
Johnson buckled down. He forced pop out to first and intentionally walked Zacharias to load the bases with two outs. He then got Tyler Lukesh to hit a short popup to shortstop, and Smyer gloved it to end the game.
Game two also began in Declo’s favor. The Hornets scored four runs in the top of the first, and they added five in the third to take an 9-2 lead. It bulged to 11-2 an inning later.
The game had a Murphy’s Law vibe for the Trojans. Their pitchers issued several walks and wild pitches. They were sloppy and in the field, often failing to communicate.
“You’ve gotta make those routine, fundamental plays,” Wendell coach Marty Hurd said. “They’ve gotta learn from this. They can’t take it too deep to heart.”
One moment in the middle of the game turned the mood of the game into something far more serious.
James Hirai came up to bat in the bottom of the fourth and pulled multiple pitches foul. The last one hit him square in the head. The sophomore second baseman instantly fell the ground and left his head in the dirt for about a minute. Minutes later, he was helped off the field with a dazed look on his face. Hurd said Hirai blacked out and was taken to the hospital.
The Hornets put the run rule into effect in the top of the fifth with two runs, and they finished the sweep in the bottom half.
With the conference standings tied, the tiebreaker for hosting the two-team conference tournament came down to common opponents. Declo holds a better record, and will host the tournament, starting with a doubleheader on Tuesday.
“We’ve been steadily improving in the second half,” Meyer said. “I like our chances going forward.”