SHEFFIELD — Keystone’s Kendle Stiner came up big at the plate and on the mound Wednesday.
Stiner’s two-out, two-run single in the top of the first gave the Wildcats the early lead, and he responded with six innings of three-hit, shutout baseball as Keystone downed Brookside 6-3 in Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division play.
While both teams scored three runs in a wild seventh inning, the Wildcats prevailed despite scratching out just five hits.
“Maybe we’re just not the best cold-weather team around,” Keystone coach Bert Fitzgerald said. “Brookside played a great game. We were lucky to have Kendle throwing strikes on the hill today. He did a great job. We hit the ball pretty well against a nice pitcher (Ryan Blotzer). We just need to find a way to put teams away when we get them down.
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“But it’s a good conference win on the road in the cold, so I’m pretty happy about it.”
Keystone improved to 6-4, 3-0 in the PAC, while Brookside slipped to 1-6, 0-4.
None of Keystone’s six runs were earned, thanks to four errors by the Cardinals and a balk issued to Blotzer (0-1), who was making his first start of the season.
The first miscue came with two outs in the top of the first, when Crae Watkins dropped Marcus Gunter’s fly ball to left.
Tyler Gullett drew a walk, and both runners stole to put them in scoring position with Stiner up.
On a 1-2 pitch, Stiner laced a liner into the gap in left-center for a single, scoring both runners and giving Keystone a 2-0 lead.
“Jumping out quick, especially getting both of those runs with two outs, was great,” Fitzgerald said. “I just wish we could have had a couple more here and there instead of waiting through five innings of cold.”
Stiner’s clutch hit carried over to the mound. He only allowed one hit through four innings and retired 12 of the first 13 hitters he faced.
He also made two great plays in the field to cut down Brookside baserunners in the fifth and sixth and kept the Cardinals off the board until the seventh.
“Fastballs were the key,” said Stiner (2-0). “Just pounding the zone and making my defense work. We’ve got a good strong defense now, so I’m going to throw strikes and let our ‘D’ work and do what they do best.
“With the wind blowing in, it gave me more confidence. The hitters got to put the ball on the ground, and my defense came up time and time again with some nice plays.”
Keystone got another run in the fifth Blotzer balked after he faked a throw to the plate. That brought Denny Szalai in from third. However, the Cards avoided further damage when Gullett flied out to Cameron Drew in center, and Drew’s throw to the plate cut down Pierce Young for an inning-ending double play.
Thanks to two errors and a big two-out, two-run double by Gullett, the Wildcats tacked on three insurance runs in the top of the seventh to take a commanding 6-0 lead.
Brookside, however, made things interesting in the bottom of the seventh.
Matthew Seekins, Blotzer and Nick Wehler had consecutive singles to load the bases with nobody out, and an RBI groundout by Zach Green broke the shutout.
With two outs, Blotzer scored on a wild pitch, and Wehler came around after right fielder Collin Fitzgerald dropped Greg Maust’s fly ball. However, Stiner came back to strike out Watkins with two on to end the game.
“We scored three in the seventh, and I think we kind of came out and relaxed a little bit on defense,” Fitzgerald said. “That caused us just a little worry there.”
Brookside coach Brad Bomback was pleased with how his team responded in the seventh.
“We had a tough game on Monday, losing to Black River in 10 innings, and then came out a little flat (Tuesday) against Columbia,” he said. “One thing we talked about before this game was that we wanted to come out and fight the whole game. I’m proud of the way they conducted themselves and stayed in it for seven innings.
“This was probably the best game we’ve ever had against Keystone during my six years here. I think the way we ended this game is definitely something we can build on and carry over to our remaining games.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or email@example.com.