By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Cloverdale’s formula for Wednesday’s 1-0 victory over host El Molino in the first round of the NCS Division 4 baseball playoffs was simple — ride the strong arm of starter Chris Harms, play solid defense and take advantage of a Lions’ error to score the game’s only run.
“Today’s win was a real team effort,” Cloverdale coach Keith Warner said. “These two teams were evenly matched so whichever had fewer errors probably was going to win.”
No. 10 seed Cloverdale (16-9) moves on to the quarterfinals on Saturday at 1 p.m. at second-seeded Justin-Siena (Napa), which defeated No. 15 seed Kelseyville 9-2 on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the seventh-seeded Lions’ (14-11) season is in the books with an unsatisfactory conclusion.
“I’m not ready yet for our season to end,” El Molino coach Tony Franceschi said in the dugout after the game. “That’s why I haven’t collected our kids’ uniforms yet.”
The star of the game was Harms, who pitched a complete game shutout, giving up only four hits and one walk while striking out eight. Of Harms’ 96 pitches, 71 were strikes.
“I had good control today,” Harms said. “My curveball wasn’t always there but it was when I needed it.”
The Eagles scored the game’s lone run, which was unearned, off El Molino starter Mitchell Fricker in the third inning.
Harms led off and reached first base after a fielding error by the Lions’ third baseman on a routine grounder. Fricker walked the next two to load the bases with no outs and surrendered an RBI single up the middle by Greg Scaramella. Fricker recovered with a strikeout and two fly outs to limit the damage to one run.
“We had the right guy on the mound; we just didn’t execute and Cloverdale did,” Franceschi said. “Cloverdale played good defense.”
Fricker was lifted after three innings due to arm pain, Franceschi said. Fricker gave up two hits, two walks and struck out five during his stint. El Molino reliever Jeremy Pearson pitched a stellar final four innings to keep the Eagles close. Pearson gave up no runs, three hits and struck out three in four innings.
“Pearson played fantastic,” Franceschi said.
El Molino batters never appeared comfortable at the plate against Harms.
“Harms has been our best pitcher all year,” Warner said. “He had a lot of movement on his fastball and was able to throw curveballs for strikes. El Molino is a good hitting team, he had them off balance.”
Franceschi said his hitters took an ineffective approach against Harms and it cost them.
“We didn’t have good at-bats,” Franceschi said. “We had a defensive approach instead of attacking at the plate.”
El Molino had one final chance in the seventh inning with runners at first and second with one out but Harms buckled down and got the final two batters to pop out to the infield to seal the victory.
“Harms had his good stuff today,” Franceschi said. “His off-speed pitches were on and that made his fastball that much better.”
Harms was helped out by the Eagles’ defense as the infield made several nice plays and right fielder Michael McDermott made a tremendous running catch deep down the right-field line to rob Pearson of extra bases in the fourth inning.
“We played big team defense today,” Harms said. “It was a great team win.”
Warner said Harms will not start against Justin Siena but will likely come in to pitch a few innings of relief.