MAYNARD - After an 0-2 start, Lafferty, back in the Steele and Cook Insurance Ohio Valley Baseball League following a few years off, is quickly making up for missed time.
Tuesday night here on the Firemen's Field diamond at the Community Park, the visiting Dodgers (10-3) used the complete-game effort of Travis Stephens in blanking Maynard, 2-0, in a crisp 92 minutes.
The victory, which gave second-place Lafferty some breathing room over Maynard (10-5), Barton (8-4) and Neffs (9-5) in the bunched-up standings, was the fourth straight and 10th in 11 games.
Stephens, who pitched for Maynard the last three seasons, admitted to being extra amped up when he took the hill.
"When Jordan told me I was getting the ball, I was pretty excited," the 2011 Otterbein University graduate recalled.
"I just wanted to come and be ready to throw. I threw strikes and I thought I did pretty well."
The right-hander struck out three of the first five batters he faced to show how pumped up he was. He finished with only four Ks, but he made the big pitches when he had to. Only once, in the fifth with two outs, did Maynard get a runner to second base.
"There were certain points in the game when I was throwing everything for strikes," the 24-year-old said of his 93-pitch (60 strikes) outing. "A couple of times I couldn't get my curveball over for strikes, but I would just throw strikes, and my defense played great behind me. They made a few tough plays, so it worked out well."
Indeed his new mates did.
Third baseman Ron Smyth, the Dodgers' ace on the hill who will toe the rubber tonight against Barton at Henning Field in Crescent, made a backhand stab of a smash in the bottom of the fourth and threw to first for the first out. Then, after Kevin Brown singled sharply to left, Smyth snagged a chopper and started an around-the-horn double play.
One inning later, Lafferty first baseman Tyler McGary caught a shallow popup down the rightfield line while avoiding a collision with two teammates. McGary also gloved a low liner to end the game.
"We played very good defense and Travis pitched outstanding," Lafferty manager Greg Curry said. "He's pitched well for us all year, but that's the best I've seen him pitch this summer."
Maynard manager Laney Simone Sr. agreed.
"We haven't hit the ball well since about mid-season. It's carrying on, but Travis pitched a great game. He's a very good pitcher, and I wish he was still on our side."
With the two teams struggling to find any offense against Stephens and his counterpart, former Shadyside and current Wheeling Jesuit moundsman Logan Hudson, were stringing up goose eggs.
Lafferty finally broke through in the fourth when Jordan Barbina legged out an infield single to the left side. After he stole second, McGary walked on a 3-2 pitch. Both runners moved up 90-feet when Bernie Thompson laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt.
With the count at 3-2 on left-handed hitting Tyler Grant, he struck out swinging on a ball in the dirt. However, Maynard catcher Michael Androsko couldn't come up with it as Grant reached first to load the bases. Austin Curry, a 2013 Union Local graduate, looped an 0-1 pitch down the rightfield line as Barbina and McGary raced home.
That would be all the support Stephens would need. He retired the final four batters he faced, including the side in order in the seventh. That would be only the second time he did that all night as Maynard had runners on in five of the seven frames.
Maynard's Cory Kotopka's double with two outs in the fifth was the lone extra-base it of the game for either team.
"(Logan) Hudson pitched a heckuva game," Greg Curry added. "One heckuva game. We got a few guys on base finally and got the clutch hit when we needed it. When you're in a pitching duel like that, you'll take for whatever you get."
Hudson was the tough-luck loser with 10 strikeouts and two walks. He scattered four singles and threw 105 pitches (68 strikes).
Tonight's game at Barton starts at 6 o'clock.
Defiance won and eventually captured the state title to finish a superb 31-1.
"They were really good," Little said last night.
Lafferty 000 200 0 - 2 4 1
Maynard 000 000 0 - 0 4 2
Batteries: Stephens and Jellison. Hudson and Androsko.
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