Lambert head coach Rick Howard hoped to use Friday's game against Norcross to evaluate exactly where his team stands ahead of region play.
But Friday's 6-1 win served to reinforce something Howard already knew.
Colin Linder is pretty darn good.
Lambert's powerful righty overwhelmed the Blue Devils Friday night, turning in his best outing of the season with 10 strikeouts across six shutout innings, allowing only one hit and a walk.
"The first three for him, the pitch count was down, it was in the zone, he was smooth and it was what we've been wanting to see," Howard said. "To his credit, he went out and stayed focused on what he wanted to do, so he had a lot of growth tonight."
Linder retired the first 11 batters he faced, striking out the side in the bottom of the third inning. Christian Harmon reached base on a dropped third strike the following inning to give Norcross its first baserunner, but Linder responded with another punchout to end the inning.
Linder was tested again in the fifth when a walk and a single, followed by a sacrifice bunt, gave the Blue Devils runners on second and third with one out. But Linder buckled down and got Nick Nilsson to strike out looking, then reared back and fired a third-strike fastball past Nick Waid to get him swinging.
"Honestly, I was just trying to forget that anybody was on base," Linder said. "I just wanted to throw the ball down the middle and let my defense work. I trusted the guys behind me and made it happen."
Linder, a Texas A&M commit, owns a 1.88 ERA through four appearances this season and has struck out 21 batters in 14 1/3 innings.
"The jam where he had second and third and one out, that was huge. That was very, very huge," Howard said. "He was just calm through his pitches, trusted his stuff and then got us out of the situation. It was great. It was a really good effort tonight."
Lambert's offense exploded for five runs in the fifth inning, a rally that began with a Parker Brosius walk.
After Brosius' walk, Jack Stewart executed a perfect hit-and-run, slicing the ball through the right side and catching the Norcross second baseman out of position.
Norcross pitcher Chase Bastuk intentionally walked Justin Haskins to load the bases, then Richard Ferror-Westrop delivered a two-run base knock to give Lambert a 3-0 lead. Braden Bamburowski added a two-run single two batters later, then scored on Nate Dvorsky's RBI single.
Brosius reached base twice and stole third base in the first inning.
"I think he's starting to understand how many things he does for us," Howard said. "He is starting to understand the opportunities that he creates for himself, and also more importantly for us. Just moving people around and doing things creates stuff for us and for the hitter hitting behind him. Stewart's done a great job behind him all season so far, so that's pretty nice too to have somebody behind you that helps you create those things as well."
Jett Bugajski scored on a wild pitch after pinch-running for Linder to give Lambert its first run in the fourth inning. Linder had a walk sandwiched between a pair of deep drives to center field that nearly left the park.
Lambert (6-3) will open Region 6-7A play at 6:15 p.m. at home against Gainesville before a two-game series against rival South Forsyth that begins March 12.
"I think we have what it takes to go far," Linder said. "And really, it's just going to depend on if we can come out every night and do what we did here today and compete. I believe we can take it all the way if we really put our minds to it."