Lambert’s baseball team bounced around homeplate as they waited for JD Dutka to round third base. Halfway down the line, Dutka flexed his arms and yelled, ‘Come on!’ before he was swarmed by teammates as he touched homeplate.
Indeed, the Longhorns followed Dutka’s lead in their 11-1 victory in six innings over West Forsyth on Thursday in a crucial county and Region 6-AAAAAA game.
On the mound and at the plate, Dutka delivered for Lambert in arguably the most anticipated regular season game for both teams.
“It was a pretty big win because they’re our region rivals,” Dutka said. “It was a big win, but we take everything one game at a time.”
Lambert has staked its claim to the No. 1 ranking in Class AAAAAA and No. 21 ranking in the country through a well-balanced approach to the game. The Longhorns don’t beat teams in one way. They do it in every way possible, and they have done it now for 13 straight games as they sit in first place in the region.
“They’re a complete ball team,” West head coach Mike Pruitt said. “They do everything right. … I guess deserving of that No. 1 ranking.”
Dutka epitomized Lambert’s thoroughness Thursday night.
On the mound, the junior righthander with his side-arm delivery flummoxed West (11-3, 3-2) from the very start. Dutka was aggressive, going to three-ball counts just twice in his six complete innings, and the Wolverines took the bait with several one-pitch at-bats. The lone run Dutka allowed in the bottom of the second innings was unearned. When he ran into trouble in the bottom of the first, allowing back-to-back two-out singles to Chris Cullen and Mason McWhorter, Dutka induced a harmless come-backer from Brett Anderson. When McWhorter doubled to lead off the bottom of the sixth, Dutka picked him off.
West made contact against Dutka. He had no strikeouts. But he scattered just four hits, he said, thanks to his change-up.
“I felt pretty good,” Dutka said. “I didn’t have my best stuff, but it was enough to get them out tonight, and my defense was outstanding.”
“JD attacked the hitters early,” Lambert head coach Jaime Corr said. “He did a great job of mixing in his change-up tonight. That ended up being his plus pitch, and that got us out of a couple early jams. He did a great job of pitching first-pitch strikes and then just relying on his defense to work behind him.”
At the plate, Dutka delivered the early blow in the top of the second inning to help Lambert seize control of the game. Lambert already led 2-0, and then Kyle McCann and Jeremy Johnson hit back-to-back singles off West junior left-hander and University of Georgia verbal commit Adison Albright.
It didn’t take long for Dutka to find his pitch, a high fastball that he belted to left-center field to give the Longhorns a 5-0 lead.
“He just left a fastball up,” Dutka said, “and I didn’t miss it.”
“We had a great game going through the first couple of innings,” Corr said, “but then when he delivered that three-run homer it took a lot of wind out of their sails. But we knew that [West] was not going to give up, so we had to keep putting runs on the board.”
Lambert chased Albright in the third inning, one in which the Longhorns scored five runs thanks to four hits, three wild pitches and two errors. The lead swelled to 10-0 with each of Lambert’s strengths on display. Johnson, Dutka, Seth Beer, Jake Chickowski and Tucker Maxwell combined at the top of the order to go 10-for-17 with four RBIs and eight runs scored.
The scenario was familiar to West though. It was a mid-season loss to Lambert last season right before spring break that jolted the Wolverines. They returned after the break and went one game short of sweeping their region schedule.
Pruitt said if West hopes for another second-half run, it must be with improved pitching. That was the Wolverines’ strength entering the season. It was the talk of the region, that West had Albright, McWhorter, seniors Johnny Cassandra and Austin Shea, junior and Stanford verbal commit Alec Wilson and others to comprise a deep and talented staff.
When the game finished Thursday, Pruitt talked to the team in right field, dismissed the position players and had a longer talk with West’s pitchers. Pruitt said he told them improvement had to be made in the second half – more first-pitch strikes, better two-strike pitches.
“We’re smarter than that. They’ve been coached better than that,” Pruitt said. “I know they can pitch. It’s just a matter of doing it, and I got all the confidence in the world in every one of them.”