AVISTON — The battle of the Expresses turned out to be a good old fashioned southpaw pitching duel between Orient Express Post 1961’s Lucas Wolf and Aviston Express Post 1239’s Austin Ratajczyk.
Ratajczyk gave up just one hit, coming out on top 1-0 to end Orient’s season on the third day of the American Legion 5th Division Tournament at Aviston on Monday.
“Their pitcher did a heck of a job,” Orent coach Kevin Elko said. “We didn’t have many runners. We hit .048, so with one hit you aren’t going to score many runs. We tried to manufacture, but that didn’t work out. Aviston is a heck of a team. They played well, defensively well and I can’t say enough about their pitcher. He threw one heck of a game.”
Ratajczyk (2-2) didn't allow an Orient runner to reach second base until the sixth inning. He walked three and struck out 11.
“Their pitcher kept us off balance,” Elko said. “We were pretty much guessing at the plate. We had a couple hard-hit balls that were foul, but we didn’t get much of a chance. Taking a week and half off before division was either a good thing or a bad thing, and it turned out to a bad thing at the plate. Seeing live pitching and playing games is not like throwing BP in the cage.”
Wolf (2-1) gave up a run in the first inning on two of the six hits he gave up and one of the two walks he issued.
“Wolf threw one heck of a game, too,” Elko said. “After the first inning he settled in real well and pitched well enough to win, but unfortunately we couldn’t back him up.”
After stranding a runner at second in the first, Wolf didn’t allow another runner to reach second until two outs in the fifth. He stranded him there and retired the final four batters, including striking out the final batter for his sixth strikeout of the game.
Orient (11-5-2) put a runner on in the top of the first on a two-out walk to Brendan Russell, but he was erased on a fielder’s choice to the shortstop.
Aviston (17-10) left fielder Calvin Rakers opened the bottom of the inning with a solid base hit to left on a 2-2 pitch. After striking out the next batter on three pitches, Wolf fell behind 2-0 on the next batter before walking him on a 3-1 pitch.
With runners at first and second and one out, Wolf got the second out on a called third strike and then got ahead of third baseman Tyler Malone 0-2. After working the count even, Malone hit a bloop single to left to score Rakers.
“It wasn’t hard-hit, but one of those that kills you because it fell in,” Elko said. “But it was a hit — not taking anything away from them — because they scored that runner.”
Ratajczyk set down the next eight batters in a row, including striking out the side in the second, until issuing his second walk to Broy with two outs in the fourth on a 3-1 pitch.
Ratajczyk ended the inning by striking out Logan Elko on three pitches and then struck out the side in the fifth. Ratajczyk opened the sixth by hitting Paxton Griffith on a 2-2 pitch. One out later, Blake Engler broke up Ratajczyk’s no-hit bid on a 0-2 pitch with a single to left.
With runners at first and second, Ratajczyk shut down the first scoring threat by striking out the next two batters on eight pitches.
Ratajczyk struck out the first batter in the seventh before walking Gabe Campbell on a 3-2 pitch. Jacob Russell bunted him to second, but the game ended on a pop fly to short.
“Overall we had a heck of a season, and going to the division tournament was an honor,” Elko said. “It was a great coaching experience for me with a great group of kids. And I have most of these kids coming back.”