SALTILLO – The two weeks of rest must have felt good for Saltillo High pitcher Dillon Payne, because the junior left-hander was strong from the beginning during Friday’s Game 1 of a MHSAA Class 4A first-round playoff series against Vicksburg.
Payne, who suffered from arm fatigue in his last start, held last year’s Class 4A runner-up to just one run and three hits in the Tigers’ 7-1 win at Saltillo City Park.
“Everybody I talked to said they could hit the ball,” Saltillo coach Johnny Bolen said of Vicksburg. “They said they could put up six, eight runs an inning.
“From all of what I heard they were a great-hitting ballclub, and so he did an excellent job of holding them to one run.amp”
Payne’s left arm went the distance, striking out 11 and walking three, as the junior improved to 6-2 on the year.
“It feels great,” Payne said. “We went out there, we hit the ball, they played behind me and we did great.amp”
The southpaw got all the runs he would need in the bottom of the third when his team sent 12 hitters to the plate and scored six runs.
Jake Littlejohn and Cole Morse had RBI singles in the inning off Vicksburg left-hander Brian Fitzgerald. The Tigers (13-13) had seven of their 12 hits in the third inning.
“Our approach was to stay back and take the ball the other way because the scouting report said (Fitzgerald) likes to throw to everybody on the outside corner,” Bolen said. “We did a good job off him.amp”
Fitzgerald (5-1) suffered his first loss of the season after giving up six runs, eight hits and two walks in 2 1/3 innings.
He did strike out four Saltillo hitters before giving way to a fellow lefty, Blake Tarnabine.
The Tigers struck Tarnabine for one run in the sixth when the Vicksburg pitcher surrendered back-to-back doubles to Littlejohn and Morse.
Tarnabine struck out two, allowed four hits and walked none in finishing the game for the Gators (18-7).
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t stay back and hit him like we should,” Bolen said.
The Gators, on the other hand, seemed to have a game plan of working the pitch count up against Payne, but that wasn’t really planned, according to their manager Jamie Creel.
“Not particularly,” Creel said. “We’re an aggressive team.
“We’re planning to be aggressive, and the guy just made the pitches to get us out.”
The Gators finally got to Payne in the top of the seventh, as Kurt Cooksey’s second hit of the game, a solo home run to left, provided the visitors’ lone run.
“He’s either piping strikes or way out of the zone, which is effective,” Creel said.
“He was very effective today. I thought he did a great job of controlling our hitters, and hopefully we can come out tomorrow and swing the bat a little better.amp”
Game 2 and, if necessary, Game 3 will be played today in Vicksburg beginning at 4 p.m. Junior right-hander Cole Morse will take the mound for Saltillo in Game 2, while Creel said he hasn’t made a decision yet on who will get the nod for his team.
The Vicksburg Post, however, reported on Friday that Cooksey will start Game 2.
John Wilbert/Daily Journal