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Diotte’s Double Lifts Pioneers Past Liberty in Walk-off Fashion

The situation may have called for small-ball, but Patriot shortstop Mason Diotte came through with a huge hit.

Diotte’s seventh-inning double scored Nate Eikhoff from first base to lift the Pioneers to a 4-3 walk-off win over Liberty in Saturday action at the Cropp Metcalfe Let’s Play Two Tournament at Woodbridge High School.

In the first two pitches of his at-bat, Diotte looked to give himself up with a sacrifice bunt to move Eikhoff into scoring position. But he didn’t get his pitch.

And with a 2-0 count, Patriot coach Sammy Serrano changed his tune, opting instead for a hit-and-run. He did so partially because the Eagles sold out for the bunt, fully expecting Diotte to lay one down.

“When you get to a plus count for us, if they’re going to play the bunt, and we know that they’re prepared for the bunt, it’s easy to call the hit-and-run,” said Serrano. “It’s not easy, but it works. He’s [Diotte] such a good hitter that we know he’s going to do the right thing in that situation.”

Keeping the situation in mind, Diotte hoped to drive the ball to right and hit behind the runner, but he turned on the inside fastball, clobbering it into the left-center field gap.

“The first two pitches were bunts,” recalled Diotte, “and the third pitch he gave me a hit-and-run. I was looking for something to take ‘oppo.’ I had to get it to right field so he [Eikhoff] could get to third.”

Patriot led 3-0 after three frames, but Liberty stormed back to tie the game at three when Eagles’ starting pitcher Derek Dueling scored on a passed ball in the fifth.

Dueling, who sports an unorthodox whip-like delivery and biting Frisbee slurve, overcame ceding two first-inning runs to have a fine outing. He tossed five innings, striking out eight Pioneers.

“I thought Derek pitched very well,” said Liberty coach Jeff Crane. “I was pleased with his outing.”

Patriot righty Nick Brown earned the victory by tossing a scoreless seventh. The Eagles put runners on first and second with one out, but Brown fanned the next two batters to end the threat.

Serrano noted that winning close games is a trait his team needs to possess if it wants to make hay in a crowded Northwest Region.

“If you want to win, and you want to win a district championship and then a regional championship, and a state championship, you’ve got to win these games,” said Serrano. “So from our standpoint, they need to be tested like this. Liberty’s a pretty good ball team, so I was really happy with how it turned out today.”

A key to pulling out these close calls, says the coach, is learning to endure lulls, spans in every game when just about nothing seems to go right.

“We got a little stale out there,” said Serrano of the middle innings. “We weren’t hitting the strike zone a bunch… I’ve talked to the guys about the lulls of the game and trying to get through the lulls of the game, and staying focused and staying motivated, things like that.”

For his part, Crane was pleased that his team hung punch for punch with a superlative Patriot squad.

“We want to play good teams,” said Crane. “This team [Patriot] is an excellent team, and we hung right with them. So that’s good for confidence to know that we can hang with a team like that and play them well, which we did. I’m pleased all around.”