Nate Devine was quick to forgive his defense on Tuesday night.
Three consecutive throwing errors in a four-run eighth inning certainly tested the Merced College head baseball coach’s patience.
But if it hadn’t been for some web-gem caliber efforts early in the game, the Blue Devils probably wouldn’t have been in position for the 5-4 victory at Blue Devil Field.
“That’s really uncharacteristic of the way our defense has been playing the last few weeks,” Devine said. “And really, up to that point, we had played a terrific defensive game.
“That was the story of the game until the eighth inning.”
In what was likely his final start at Blue Devil Field, sophomore starting pitcher Ryan McDaniel proved himself an escape artist in the class of Harry Houdini.
Not possessing his best stuff on Tuesday, McDaniel danced himself in and out of trouble.
He struck out five, scattered eight hits over seven shutout innings and stranded 10 runners, allowing his defense to pick him up in the biggest spots.
Shota Nagatomi got McDaniel out of a bases-loaded jam with a tough diving catch in the first inning.
Ricky McColloch came up big in the second, making a diving grab on a ball hit up the middle and quickly firing to second for a force out to deny another run.
Second baseman Ryan Emerald got in on the action in the fourth inning, charging hard on a slow chopper to just get the runner at first and escape another bases loaded situation.
“We know our guys have our backs and are going to make the routine plays, but it’s those highlight-reel plays that really give us a lot of momentum,” McDaniel said. “It showed tonight.”
“Shota makes the grab in the first and then we go out and score two runs. Ricky makes a great play and we get a couple more.
“The defense has been great the last couple weeks, and that’s what you need come the playoffs.”
The MC (21-13, 15-7 Central Valley Conference) bats certainly seemed to ride the defense’s momentum.
Ryan Cumberland (3 for 3, 2B) singled in Nagatomi in the first and came home on a McColloch triple to make it 2-0 Blue Devils.
MC doubled its lead in the third. McColloch (3 for 4, 2 RBI) doubled in a run to make it 3-0, and Matt Farias came in on a wild pitch.
A Cumberland double and another wild pitch helped MC tack on a fifth run in the fifth.
“Guys have stuck with their approaches and put in hard work all season, and we’re starting to see it pay off,” said McColloch, who extended his hitting streak to 14 games and has 13 hits in his last 19 at-bats. “Now is the time of year you want to be hot, and hopefully we can keep it going right into the playoffs.”
The Blue Devils looked in complete control after consecutive 1-2-3 innings in the sixth and seventh, but things got tight in the eighth.
A one-out walk and three straight two-out throwing errors plated three runs for Reedley (12-22, 7-15 CVC). Mike Hostetler then singled in a run to trim the lead to 5-4.
That’s as close as the Tigers would get. Carl Jameson slammed the door in the ninth for his sixth save of the season.