MILTON – All season long, Lambert baseball has taken pride in avoiding the big mistakes. While their opponents have often gifted them extra opportunities with mental and physical errors, the Longhorns have rarely returned the favor.
This was especially true in the first four rounds of the playoffs, as Lambert faced little adversity in reaching the Class AAAAAA championship series. However, a plethora of uncharacteristic blunders in Games 1 and 2 against Milton plagued the Longhorns, as they split the double header on Saturday—winning Game 1, 2-1, and falling in Game 2, 5-0.
The two clubs will square off again at Milton (28-8) on Monday at 3 p.m., this time with a state title on the line. Though the Eagles host, Lambert (35-2) was named the home team after winning a coin toss to determine sides.
“We threw the ball around a little bit tonight,” said Lambert head coach Jamie Corr. “We’re going to come out a lot more solid on Monday.”
Between the two contests Lambert was picked off three times and surrendered two runs from throwing errors on pickoff attempts of their own. The former of those mistakes proved costly, as pitcher Dylan Biumi fired a pickoff attempt to third base in the fourth inning of Game 2 only to see no one covering the bag, allowing Milton to break a 0-0 tie.
“There was a little miscommunication,” Corr said of the mishap. “But certainly nothing we can’t fix and be sound again on Monday.”
Biumi didn’t have his best stuff, giving up three runs in 4 1/3 innings. On the other hand, JD Dutka, who got the start in Game 1, strung together a masterful performance—allowing just one run in a complete game effort.
Dutka also scored the winning run in Game 1, crossing the plate after Tucker Maxwell hit a bloop single to left-centerfield.
“JD was dominant,” Corr said of Dutka. “He is finishing the year strong, and I’m very, very proud of him on the mound.”
Maxwell’s RBI came after Lambert recorded three fly balls that fell just short of home runs and into Milton gloves. The Longhorns’ ability to play some scrappy baseball in the later innings of Game 1 allowed them to walk away with a win, which, after their issues in Game 2, could have saved the season.
Though Lambert did shoot itself in the foot on multiple occasions, Milton certainly played well in its own right. Lefty pitcher Alex Schnell silenced Lambert’s bats in the second matchup of the night, giving up just three hits and striking out seven.
Jack Thompson scored twice on two hits, and an Erik Petersen triple led to Biumi’s errant throw that allowed Milton to take the lead in Game 2.
“When you’re in the state finals, you can rest assured that there’s another very good ball club in the other dugout,” Corr said. “It’s two great teams going at it.”
This is only the second time all year Lambert has had to rebound from a loss, the first being three weeks ago in the second round of the playoffs, when Mill Creek pushed that series to three games.
The Longhorns recovered from that defeat with a 7-3 victory, and they’ll take a similar mentality to Monday’s contest in hopes of earning a similar result.
With the biggest game of their lives on the horizon, Corr’s message to his players is simple.
“We came here for a marathon, and we know this marathon is going to be filled with peaks and valleys,” Corr said. “(The message is) never get too high, never get too low. Just come out Monday and play the best game of the year.”