One inning might have made all of the difference Friday night, as Lambert split its playoff-opening doubleheader against Milton at home.
Starting pitcher Cole Varner struggled with his control to start Game 2, giving up five runs in the first frame, after the Longhorns won 9-4 in the first contest, however he settled down and pitched five strong innings before injuring his ankle with no outs in the sixth inning.
At that point, Varner had the upper hand on Milton's batters, but the Eagles broke the game open with four more runs to take a 10-1 lead and set up a quick finish for Clay Forbes, who pitched a complete game.
Lambert coach Drew Ferrer thought Varner had a strong showing overall, as he struck out seven batters, and was more concerned with his offense's approach at the plate in the night cap.
“We didn't have a very good approach. Their kid did a nice job of mixing it up, but we didn't help ourselves out by swinging at some pitches we didn't need to,” Ferrer said.
Lambert didn't get any help in the second contest either, as Seth Beer was walked all three at bats after going 2 for 3 with three RBIs in the first game.
The Longhorns also were sluggish on defense in Game 2, committing five errors.
When asked if he'd rather have the results flip-flopped, insinuating momentum heading into tomorrow's 3 p.m. rubber match, Ferrer had no preference – he was just happy to have a chance at a three-game series.
“I can't control that kind of stuff,” Ferrer said. “We came out the first game and thankfully got one under the belt, but unfortunately we didn't get it done in the second game. I thought Cole threw very well after settling down in the second inning, but we just had too many errors and if you don't care of the baseball, it doesn't matter who you're playing, the other team will be successful.”
Leadoff man Jeremy Johnson was Mr. Everything for the Longhorns in Game 1. The senior showed out , going 2 for 2 at the plate with two doubles, two walks, two steals, three runs scored and two RBIs. However, Johnson's biggest moment came on a full-extension, diving grab in the top of the fourth that prevented two runs from inevitably scoring and keeping the margin at 6-2.
The Longhorns also turned double plays twice to fend off scoring threats from Milton in Game 1. Parker Scruggs scored two runs in the first contest as a pinch runner while his twin brother, Turner, was solid in 1.1 innings of relief, along with a 1-2-3 inning from Zach Graverno to finish the game.
“I felt like the first game, Jeremy had a great game as a senior. We had several defensive plays that were big. We'll come back tomorrow, hopefully play clean baseball, and we'll be fine,” Ferrer said.
J.D. Dutka went 4 and 1/3 innings in Game 1, allowing seven hits against two strikeouts. Lambert will count as the home team in tomorrow's deciding game, with the winner moving on to face the winner of the Kennesaw Mountain-Westlake matchup.