Game 1 of the series saw a gem of a pitching duel between Sparks’ junior Keiffer Putman and South Tahoe senior Colton Marchesseault. Both hurlers went the distance and beyond as the first game needed extra innings to decide a winner.
Batters struggled mightily against the pitching throughout the game. Putman faced some adversity in the bottom of the second inning when back-to-back singles left a runner at third with two outs, but he was able to force a fly out to clear himself of the jam and leave the contest knotted at 0-0.
No real threats presented themselves to the aces over the next four innings as the pitchers combined, only allowed five batters to reach base safely. Heading into the seventh frame, Sparks tried to break the tie and get a run across the plate, but fell short.
With one out, senior Brandon Harris doubled to put the go-ahead run in scoring position. The Vikings then intentionally walked L.B. Rose to put force outs in play and their strategy worked as junior Jared Longland grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. Putman retired the side in order in the bottom of the seventh, sending the game into extras with goose eggs still on the scoreboard.
Three-up, three-down innings for both squads in the eighth frame pushed the game into the ninth, when the Railroaders finally broke through and found their bats.
After a groundout opened the top of the ninth, the Maroon and Gold loaded the bases with a single from Putman, and Harris and Rose each getting hit by a pitch. With the sacks loaded and begging to be emptied, Longland stepped to the dish and roped a single that scored Putman and Harris, giving Sparks the first lead of the game. A single from Casey Carter pushed another run home before a walk to James McCarty allowed Longland to round the sacks, leaving the scoreboard reading 4-0.
“They just hung in there and they just kept on playing hard and finally got on the board,” Sparks coach Greg Vasko said. “They didn’t let up at all. I was proud of them.”
Putting two runners on with a pair of singles and one out in the bottom of the ninth gave South Tahoe a small glimmer of hope at a rally, but Putman refused to give in, striking out the next two batters for the final two outs of the game and the win.
“Keiffer and Colton both pitched an outstanding game,” Vasko said. “Keiffer had a lot of support behind him with our defense and it made a big a difference. It was going both ways on the mound and back-and-forth defensively and they did a good job.”
Putman sprayed seven hits around the field in the winning effort, while striking out seven and walking a pair. Marchesseault struck out nine in the loss.
Compared to the first tilt, the second game saw an explosion of offense.
Carrying the momentum from its extra-inning victory, Sparks pushed two runs across the plate in the first inning when senior Quinn Lightfoot scored on a sac fly from Harris and Rose touched home on a passed ball.
The bats reverted back to their form from the first game before South Tahoe scored its first runs of the day with a pair in the bottom of the third to tie the game at 2-2.
The Railroaders broke the tie with their next turn at-bat. Back-to-back singles from McCarty and senior Kody McClelland to start off the fifth frame were followed by an error on a fly ball off the bat of Lightfoot that scored the pair. Lightfoot then made his way home on a single from Rose for a 5-2 Sparks advantage.
No scoring in the fifth inning from either side left the Railroaders holding a three-run edge before the SHS-nine added a pair of insurance runs in the top of the sixth frame.
With one out, Lightfoot ripped a line drive for a triple. Harris followed suit with an RBI double into the left-center field gap before Rose traded places with him on a double that skidded along the left-field foul line, leaving the Railroaders ahead 7-2.
South Tahoe (7-12, 3-4 MRL) pushed a run across the plate in the bottom of the sixth, but was unable to manage any more offense as Sparks took the game 7-3.
Longland worked from the bump for the Railroaders, walking six and striking out six en route to the complete-game victory. After taking both games, Vasko was pleased with the performance of his pitchers and his defense.
“Keiffer and Jared pitched good games,” Vasko said. “Those two guys are our go-to’s and they’ve been solid. Defensively, we played well. We had a couple of pickoffs in crucial spots which was nice. I’m just happy to see them play the way they’re capable of playing.
“We just have to keep making the plays that are at us. That’s the thing that bugged us before. When we weren’t making the plays that we were supposed to make. Today we made those plays, so I was happy with our performance.”
Sparks (12-4, 8-1 MRL) plays at Hug on Wednesday at 4 p.m.