The best pitching staff in the Home Talent League’s Southeast Section carried the Evansville Jays to the postseason.
Recently, manager Jon Frey has turned to Brent Cashore as the starter, with Jameson Lavery, arguably the league’s best pitcher, coming in to close out the final few innings.
That strategy worked perfectly against Fort Atkinson last week as the Jays clinched the final playoff spot on the last day of the regular season.
Why fix what isn’t broken?
Cashore threw six effective innings and left with a four-run lead Sunday. That was plenty of cushion for Lavery, who shut down the Albion Tigers over the final three frames as the Jays pulled off a 5-2 upset in a Southeast Section semifinal, knocking out the league’s regular-season champions.
The fireballing Lavery and crafty Cashore could not be more different. Lavery can be overpowering, while Cashore doesn’t throw as hard and focuses on changing speeds. That is perhaps what makes the pair so productive.
“Everyone in the league knows how good a pitcher Jameson is,” said Cashore, who struck out four and walked none. “When he comes in with three innings left, you can see it on the other team’s faces. They know they’ve got a tall task in front of them.
“My strategy is to keep people off balance—mix pitches, pitch backwards, throw off-speed in fastball counts and vice-versa.”
Lavery struck out six and, while he wasn’t untouchable—Albion did get the tying run to the plate in the ninth—he picked up his second straight multi-inning save with little drama.
“He’s machine-like in his mechanics and the way he works,” Frey said. “Jameson is willing to yield to that closer role. He says, ‘I can do anything you want.’”
The Jays, riding a five-game winning streak, are one win from returning to the Home Talent League Final Four. They will travel to Stoughton for the Southeast Sectional championship Sunday.
Albion, which won 11 consecutive games at one point this summer, ended its season with three straight losses. The Tigers beat the Jays twice during the regular season en route to their first Southeast Section title since 2016.
They took a 1-0 lead on Jake Zeimet’s triple in the bottom of the first but didn’t score again until the ninth.
“It’s frustrating we couldn’t score more against Brent because we felt we had good swings and good at-bats,” Albion manager Matt Towns said. “Then you look up and we’ve got a bunch of zeroes.
“They (Evansville) want to play small ball. We had a one-run lead, but it wasn’t enough to take them off their game. They do it better than anybody else.”
The Jays loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth and finally broke through Albion starter Lucas Gregory, who struck out 10 in a complete-game effort. Nolan Strzok drew a five-pitch walk to force in a run, Johannes Haakenson hit a sacrifice fly and Joe Cox hit an RBI groundout.
In the seventh, Haakenson dumped a single into right field between Albion’s first baseman and right fielder. Strzok, waiting at first to tag in case the ball was caught, got a late break.
He barely beat the throw from the outfield, the umpire ruled, prompting protests from shortstop Aaron Laskowski and Towns. It would have been the second out of the inning.
Evansville took advantage of the beneficial call, later scoring two runs on Lavery’s single.
“If that (call) goes our way, it’s a totally different game,” Towns said.
Lavery struck out the side in the seventh and worked around a two-out single in the eighth. Gregory walked to open the ninth and scored on Cullen Oren’s lined sacrifice fly to center.
But Lavery struck out Jaden Johnson on three pitches to end the threat and Albion’s season.
“We got the bats going early today,” Cashore said. “The previous two games (against Albion), we had great pitching, but they out-hit us. Getting up early made the difference.”
Derek Cashore, Hunter Martindale and Trevor Aasen led Evansville with two hits apiece, while Laskowski and Jesse Appel had two each for Albion.
The Jays will have almost a week to prepare for third-seeded Stoughton. The two teams split a pair of meetings during the regular season. Sunday’s winner will advance to the Home Talent League Final Four against the champions of the other three sections.
Neosho eliminates Milton—Each time the Raptors made a move, the Rockets had an answer in a Rock River League elimination game Sunday at Neosho.
Neosho defeated Milton 7-4 to advance to the second weekend of the postseason. Milton finished 9-7 following its second playoff loss in as many days.
The Raptors led 1-0 after Andy Hainey drove in Dan Haueter with a single in the fourth. Neosho came back with three runs in the bottom half.
“That’s the stuff that drives you nuts,” Milton manager Doug Welch said. “All the sudden we’re down 3-1 after taking the lead.”
Milton scored twice to tie the game, 3-3, in the sixth. But the Rockets scored two runs of their own to retake the lead.
EVANSVILLE 5, ALBION 2
Evansville 000 030 200—5 8 1
Albion 100 000 001—2 6 2
B. Cashore, Lavery (7); L. Gregory
Leading hitters—D. Cashore (E) 2x4, Martindale (E) 2x4, Tr. Aasen (E) 2x4, Laskowski (A) 2x4, Appel (A) 2x4. 2B—Martindale. 3B—J. Zeimet (E).
SO—B. Cashore 4, Lavery 6, L. Gregory 10. BB—Lavery 1, L. Gregory 3.
NEOSHO 7, MILTON 4
Milton 000 102 100—4 11 2
Neosho 000 302 20x—7 12 1
Sam McCann, Malmanger (8); DeBoer, Sportl (7), Laursdorf (8)
Leading hitters—Shere (M) 3x4, Haueter (M) 2x4, Jacobson (M) 2x4, Bayer (N) 2x5, Proehl (N) 3x4, Laursdorf (N) 2x3. 2B—Shere, Haueter, Jacobson, Proehl 2, Laursdorf.
SO—McCann 3, Malmanger 1, DeBoer 4, Sportl 1, Laursdorf 1. BB—McCann 4, Malmanger 1, DeBoer 5, Sportl 1.