STATE?COLLEGE?- Taking a long, slow walk from the dugout to the pitcher's mound, Jeremy Eck carried no message for Loyalsock pitcher Kyle Datres. He was just stalling for as long as he could.
When Eck reached the mound he was going to stand there wait for home plate umpire Mike Campbell to come break up the meeting. Datres needed a breather in the bottom of the fourth inning of Friday morning's PIAA Class AA championship game.
He was still recovering from a baserunning adventure in the top of the inning which left him sitting on third base gasping for breath. It was no fault of his own. A brilliant web gem of a catch couple with two wayward throws had Datres running from first base to halfway between second and third, back to first base and then all the way to third again.
He only had a few minutes to regain his composure before going back on the mound for another inning of what was a brilliant complete game, five-hitter which helped the Lancers to their second consecutive state championship.
After his first pitch of the fourth sailed over the head of Central's Bradi Moore and the second drilled Moore right between the numbers on his back, Eck knew he still needed a few minutes to gather himself.
But for as much pressure which is heaped upon the shoulders of Datres, the North Carolina recruit, his teammates came up big in his defense in that fourth inning as he regained his composure. It was the second in the string of five scoreless innings which Datres tossed to close out the game.
"All he needed was a breather," said Loyalsock catcher Evan Moore, who threw out a would-be basestealer in the inning. "He just needed to relax and we still had a lot of game to go and we knew we were still going to help him offensively."
"We had to go out and make sure we bought him some time," Eck said. "He's going to give you everything until he can't give you anything else."
It's not as if Datres could coast through that fourth inning with Loyalsock holding a 3-1 lead. He was facing the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 hitters in a potent Central lineup. And hitting the first batter of the inning wasn't exactly the way he had hoped to begin the frame.
But right-fielder Jimmy Webb got the first out of the inning in spectacular fashion, tracking down a blast to the right field warning track and snaring the baseball out of the air with a diving catch toward the wall. It was a hit off the bat of Central pitcher Mike Mock which could have completely changed the course of yesterday's game. But Webb's catch gave Datres another few precious minutes to gather himself and get back to being the dominant force he was in the first three innings.
"Jimmy is kind of banged up, but he tracks the ball real well. And at our place, the sun is actually a lot worse than this, but he made a great catch," first baseman Tommy Baggett said. "We have all the confidence in the world in Jimmy making that play."
"That's Jimmy in a nutshell," Eck said. "That's why he's a Division I baseball player to go out and make a play like that. That was a huge play in the game."
Moore gave Datres another breather he needed when he caught Moore trying to steal second base. It was the third time Friday that Moore threw out a would-be basestealer in three attempts.
They were maybe three of the most crucial outs for the Loyalsock defense considering the Dragons had stolen 102 bases this year prior to Friday's game. Twice Moore threw out leadoff hitter Austin Cunningham who entered with 24 stolen bases this year. All three throws from Moore helped kill Central rallies before they ever got started.
"It killed their rhythm. If they get going, that's when they're really tough," Moore said. "If they get one run, they get five. It's good that we ended their rhythm before it got started."
"Evan behind the plate was huge for us," Datres said. "We knew when they got on the bases they were moving, so I got a couple fastballs up in the zone and he made great throws to get them out and slow down their running game."
"Take away the Jimmy Webb play, and take away Kyle Datres keeping us in the game, and Evan Moore is my MVP," Eck said. "He did an incredible job today. Getting leadoff hitters on with no outs, with them being as dangerous as they are, and for him to end rallies like that was absolutely huge for our team."
With two outs in the inning, Datres was finally settled in. He had regained his wind and his composure. He went 0-2 on Josh McKnight after a two-out error extended the inning, and finished McKnight off with a curveball on the outer half for strike three.
In a game in which Datres will get so much of the credit for an absolutely incredible performance, when he needed them, his teammates were there to pick him up.