BY CHAD DARE
Salt Fork junior Cole Taylor came into the 2013 baseball season as one of three big arms in the Storm pitching staff.
But, injuries to Ross Learnard and Max Stutsman thrust Taylor into the role of staff ace.
On Tuesday afternoon, Taylor delivered like a guy at the top of the rotation leading Salt Fork to a 2-1 victory in eight innings over the Oakwood Comets.
“It was just like the first game with them, a good pitcher’s duel,’’ Salt Fork coach Gary Hansgen said.
But unlike the first game, a 3-0 win for Oakwood as the Comets right-hander Jake England tossed a no-hitter, this time around it was Taylor taking a no-hitter into the seventh.
“I just wanted to throw strikes and hopefully, we could string together a couple of runs,’’ said Taylor, who gave up four hits in the contest as he walked five and struck out 12. “I couldn’t find the zone well enough in the seventh.
“But I found a way to get it done.’’
With the victory, the Storm (16-7 overall, 13-3 in the VVC) claims at least a share of the conference title.
“We knew we had a share of the conference title on the line,’’ Taylor said. “We had to win to have a shot at the conference title.’’
So after giving up a bases-loaded walk to Cody McClintock to tie the game at 1-1, Taylor got England to pop out with the winning run just 90 feet from the plate.
“They just outplayed us,’’ Oakwood coach Bob Sermak said. “They beat us. Cole threw a fantastic game.’’
Salt Fork scored the game-winning run in the eighth on a run-scoring single to left by junior first baseman Cole Sanford, who also gave the Storm a 1-0 lead with a two-out double to right in the sixth.
“I was really hoping that my first hit was going to be enough to win it,’’ Sanford said. “Jake was pitching me outside. On the first pitch, I swung as hard as I could — trying to hit the ball hard. On the second one, I just shortened up and took it to right.
“After they tied the game up, I had to get that second one to give Cole (Taylor) another chance to close out the game.’’
Sanford’s second run-scoring hit came off Oakwood reliever Conor Jarling.
Sermak said that England, who allowed one run on four hits while walking three and striking out seven, wanted to pitch the eighth.
“I wasn’t going to let him do it,’’ Sermak said. “There are other fish to fry this season.’’
The Comets, who fall to 14-6 overall and 10-3 in the VVC, left the bases loaded in both seventh and eighth innings and they left 11 on base in the contest.
“Yes, it’s frustrating leaving runners in scoring position and not executing,’’ Sermak said. “We couldn’t get a hit when we needed it.’’
Sanford admitted that Salt Fork was a little down after a 2-0 loss to Hoopeston Area on Monday knocked them a game behind Oakwood in the league standings.
“We just cleared our heads and tried to get a win today,’’ he said. “Winning this conference title was one of our goals since the beginning of the year.
“We have a share and if Georgetown or Bismarck can help us out, we can have it all to ourselves.’’
Oakwood can still secure a share of the title, but it would need wins over Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman today and over Bismarck-Henning on Friday.
“We have to win out to get a share of the title,’’ Sermak said. “It’s there for us. We just have to do it.’’