The Evansville Jays saved their best for last.
After six strong innings from Brent Cashore, Jameson Lavery tossed three shutout frames as Evansville defeated Fort Atkinson 4-1 in a playoff spot-deciding Home Talent League regular-season finale Sunday afternoon.
Lavery, who recently transitioned from starter to reliever, faced just 10 batters in three innings, striking out five and surrendering just one hit.
“It was pretty clear early on breaking stuff wasn’t working very well, off-speed wasn’t working very well,” said the right-handed Lavery. “I didn’t have to show too much and getting ahead always makes your life easier.”
Cashore gave up one earned run and struck out six.
The Jays held a 3-1 advantage when Lavery entered the game in the seventh.
“We went in assuming we’d face Lavery and could adjust after that,” Fort Atkinson manager Sam Hartwick said. “Cashore pitched really well. He had three pitches working for him, he hit his spots. When they brought in Lavery we knew it was going to be tough.”
Both teams went into the game at 10-5, vying for the fourth and final Southeast Section playoff spot.
“We just wanted to get up right away because we knew it was win or go home,” said Joe Cox, Evansville shortstop and co-manager. “We took this as a playoff game.”
Evansville struck first, scoring two runs in the top of the third. Trevor Aasen scored after an overthrow at first and Nolan Strzok scored on a sacrifice fly in the next at-bat to make it 2-0.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Generals lost starting pitcher Owen Chady.
At the plate with a full count, Chady flipped his bat after the payoff pitch, thinking he had drawn a walk. The umpire called strike three which prompted Chady to argue the decision, resulting in an ejection.
“It seemed like we kind of got in our own heads a little bit,” Hartwick said. “They let some calls get to them and lost their mindset.”
The Jays added to their lead in the fifth with Cox’s RBI single to left field, scoring Johannes Haakenson.
It looked like the Generals were primed to respond in the bottom of the frame.
Chris Koepke, who came into pitch after Chady’s dismissal, scored Fort Atkinson’s first run and Chase Davis drew a walk to load the bases with one out. But back-to-back strikeouts from Cashore ended the inning.
“We felt like we had chances to win,” Hartwick said. “We just didn’t manufacture runs like we have throughout the year. We didn’t take advantage of some key opportunities.”
Lavery looked a bit vulnerable early on, giving up a leadoff hit to Josh Crandall in the top of the seventh. After a strikeout, Dayne Sebranek sent a hard-hit ball to center field, but Haakenson made an over-the-shoulder catch for the second out of the inning.
“That play changed the entire inning, the whole dynamic of that inning,” Lavery said. “That was huge.”
After a strikeout to end the inning, Lavery retired the side in the final two innings to end the game.
Three of the final six outs came via strikeout.
While Fort Atkinson’s Sunday League season is over, Evansville will move on to face top-seeded Albion.
The Tigers bested the Jays twice this season, with both games being decided by one run.
“It will be another battle, but hopefully we can get this one,” Cox said.
EVANSVILLE 4, FORT ATKINSON 1
Jays 002 010 001—4 9 1
Generals 000 100 000—1 7 2
Pitching (ip-h-er-bb-so)—E: Cashore (W-6-6-1-3-6), Lavery (3-1-0-0-5); FA: Chady (L-4-4-2-2-2), Koepke (5-1-0-4)
Leading hitters—E: Haakenson 3x5, Cox 2x4; FA: 2x3, Koepke 2x3