Kokomo — Russiaville squad Salsbery Garden Center is going to the Final Four of the David A. Kasey Memorial Youth Baseball Tournament for the second time in three years following a 4-0 victory over Eastside power Hammers on Tuesday at Taylor Southeast.
“I’m very proud of the boys,” Salsbery skipper Todd Arnold said. “This is my first year coaching and the last time [Salsbery made the Final Four], it was another coach’s first year coaching so this is big stuff.”
Salsbery finished in the middle of the pack in the competitive Russiaville league, making it the surprise squad of the tournament.
“I never expected it,” Arnold said. “The boys have been ramping it up more and more and coming together as a team.”
Salsbery pitchers Kolten Gifford and Trevor Fortune shut down Hammers. Gifford pitched the first two innings and allowed no hits and one walk. Fortune pitched the final four innings and allowed one hit, struck out nine, walked one and hit one batter.
The Russiaville squad backed its pitchers with a solid defensive effort led by catcher Kitchel Gifford.
Hammers threatened once, loading the bases with no outs in the top of the fifth inning. Tanae Stigger hit a leadoff double to ignite the rally. Fortune worked out of the jam by striking out the next two batters, then fielding a bunt and going home for the third out of the inning.
“That was our run and it didn’t happen,” Hammers manager Donnie Cox said.
Salsbery jumped to a quick 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Tyler Lechner had a leadoff bunt single and Kitchel Gifford followed with a bunt that Hammers misplayed, allowing Lechner to motor all the way home and Gifford to take third. Fortune followed with an RBI groundout.
Arnold loved the quick start.
“That’s another thing that has really changed for us,” he said. “Normally, it’s the fourth inning [when] we get our bats rolling. The last two games, we’ve gotten on the board the first inning and that’s been huge for us. It’s totally changed the dynamics of the game.”
The game ran into a weather delay of more than a hour in the bottom of the third.
Fortune showed no rust when the game resumed — he struck out the side on nine pitches in the top of the fourth.
Salsbery tacked on two insurance runs in the fifth, after Hammers left the bases loaded in the top of the inning. Conner Hiland had a leadoff double and later scored on a passed ball and Cole Cyr had a two-out RBI single.
Salsbery finished with six hits. Hiland and Elliot Arnold led the way with 2-for-3 performances.
Peyton Johnson pitched a complete game for Hammers. He struck out seven, walked three and hit one batter.
“We’re young — we still have five 10 [year olds] and we have only three 12s,” Cox said. “I’m proud of them. This just wasn’t a night they played like they’re capable of playing. They didn’t come out with the heart to win the game and the other team did. [Salsbery] has a good ball team. They’re well-coached. But, they didn’t see the Hammers team.”
Hammers (17-6) won the first half of Eastside’s league and is in a three-way tie in the second half. Eastside play resumes on Saturday.