EAST LAKE -
A game that at first couldn't get started suddenly didn't want to end Thursday night.
East Lake and Wharton took a scoreless tie well into extra innings as both teams refused to flinch with their playoff lives on the line.
But just before that 20th “0” flashed on the board, denoting the end of the 10th, visiting Wharton finally blinked. With two on and two out, Eagles right fielder Troy Strominger laced a full-count curveball into left field that scored fellow senior Tyler Neuhaus, setting off a raucous celebration on the infield grass.
“I had gotten two curveballs in a row before that and I was just waiting back,” Strominger said of his mindset in the batter's box with a 3-2 count, Neuhaus and third and pinch runner Andrew Prozzillo at second.
“I knew he wasn't going to throw anything by me with the fastball. I was thinking fastball away and stay back on the curveball.”
Setting up Strominger's heroics was the plate discipline and base running of Neuhaus. The center fielder's one-out walk doesn't look special in the box score, but the base-on-balls was earned after he fell into a quick 0-2 hole.
“I was trying to fight everything off and just have a good at bat and get on base,” Neuhaus said. “I knew I had people behind me that could bring me in.”
East Lake got runners at first and second on Cameron Churchill's base hit and Neuhaus helped make it second and third with a successful, albeit daring, double steal. Strominger took care of the rest from there.
“I made the last out of the Dunedin Tournament championship game in that same situation, so that was in the back of my mind a little bit,” said Strominger. “I wanted some payback.”
He got it and the Eagles (24-3) earned themselves a home date with District 8A-7 champion Durant High next Tuesday.
Although Thursday's game did end with offense, it was pitching and defense that ruled the night.
East Lake pitchers Ryan Wall and Brad Deppermann combined to punch out 17 Wildcat batters and surrender just three base hits while earning the combined shutout. Deppermann recorded 10 of those strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings of relief, fanning the first five hitters he faced and picking up the win.
“I didn't get a lot of warm up. Just came in and threw strikes, that's it,” said the junior reliever who played the first four-plus innings at third base.
“Deppermann's just a true bulldog,” East Lake coach Dan Genna said. “I hope the scouts saw that. That was impressive. He's a silent assassin. He went out there and just dealt.”
Deppermann started his night on the mound by getting the Eagles out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth, striking out Wharton's Reed Gray. But just as important was his earlier help with the bases full of Wildcats in the second inning, this time with his glove. While playing even with the bag and only one down, Deppermann dove left to rob Tyler Hathcoat's hard-hit grounder, jumped back to his feet and threw home to nail lead runner Ryan Lawson at the plate. The play saved one, if not two runs, and Wall ended the threat by inducing a harmless foul-ball pop up caught by catcher Grant Hodges.
“I knew the ball was coming my way with the way he was swinging,” Deppermann said. “I was just on my toes and went home.”
East Lake didn't fair much better with its limited scoring opportunities as Wharton starter Tristan DeLuna blanked the Eagles with eight strong innings of two-hit, eight-strikeout ball. Until Neuhaus sent a double down the right-field line in the seventh, the only other East Lake hit was a Sawyer Wirth sacrifice bunt that Wharton couldn't field. The game's lone extra-base hit was bittersweet, though, as Neuhaus' attempt to stretch it to a triple was thwarted by Wildcats second baseman Tuck Neuhaus' strong relay throw to third.
East Lake now moves on to the region semifinals for the second time in Genna's three years with the program. Only the 2000 and 2002 Eagles have advanced to the region finals.
Wharton - 000 000 000 0 --- 0-3-1
East Lake - 000 000 000 1 --- 1-5-3
WP – Brad Deppermann (6-1)
LP – Collin Brich (3-5)