Rested Roberts solid on mound as Wolverines win

Staff Writer

A little rest can go a long way. Just ask East Webster’s Jon Austin Roberts.
On Thursday night in Cumberland, Roberts took the baseball as the starting pitcher for the opening game of the Wolverines’ third-round playoff series against Bruce. The right-hander’s pitching duties had been limited over the last couple of weeks due to soreness in the elbow area.
All that was a thing of the past on Thursday as Roberts returned to the mound with five strong innings to help East Webster defeat Bruce 9-4 and take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.
“(Thursday) was the first night in a while that I was really feeling good,” Roberts said. “I came in strong and feeling confident in my arm and that’s what helped me all night.”
Roberts allowed four total runs, but just one earned run, over his five innings of work. He gave up just four hits, three walks and struck out three.
“He’s very effective when he pitches ahead in the count and he did a good job of that for the most part,” East Webster head coach Wes Johnson said of Roberts.
It wasn’t just Roberts’ arm that propelled East Webster past Bruce either. His bat also was alive and well as he went 3-for-4 at the plate with three extra-base hits and three RBI.
His biggest hit came in the bottom of the sixth inning when Roberts drove an opposite-field two-run home run over the fence in right-centerfield to put an exclamation point on the East Webster win.

“I didn’t think it was going to be gone,” Roberts said. “I thought it was going to be a double or something like that, but it got out. I’m glad it did.”

East Webster’s Art Thompson then went to the mound in the seventh inning and finished off two innings of scoreless relief to lock down the Wolverine victory.

It was a game that was a bit closer than the final score indicated. Both teams battled back and forth over the first five innings.

East Webster (24-6) put up three runs in the first inning to take early control. J.T. Slay hit a solo homer in the frame. Roberts and Walker Johnson also had run-scoring hits.

However, Bruce (17-13) answered right back with three of its own in the second. All three runs were unearned as East Webster committed three errors in the inning.

“We gave (Bruce) a few runs that they didn’t really earn,” Coach Johnson said.

The Wolverines surged back ahead in the home half of the third. Walker Johnson reached on a one-out single, then after a couple of wild pitches moved him to third base, Johnson scored on a sacrifice fly by Hastings Gibson.

The score then held until the fifth. That’s when Bruce knotted things up 4-4. After Roberts issued the Trojans a pair of walks, Nick Tunnel delivered an RBI single.

Roberts got the run back as soon as East Webster got back to plate. He led off the home half of the fifth with a double, was sacrificed to third by Walker Johnson, then scored on a groundout from Sloan Hillhouse.
Up 5-4, East Webster put the game away in the bottom of the sixth. Roberts’ two-run shot was a huge blow in the inning, but it followed perhaps an even bigger hit.

The Wolverines were clinging to their one-run lead when Wes Silver stepped to the plate with two men in scoring position. Silver had struck out looking twice earlier in the game. This time, the left-handed batter smoked the ball right back up the middle for a two-run single. He was thrown out trying to advance to second, but the damage was done.

“(Silver) has been our best hitter all year,” Coach Johnson said. “You know sooner or later he’s going to get it done. That was a clutch at-bat for sure.”

Two batters later, Roberts delivered his score-capping blast as East Webster went on to defeat Bruce for the third time overall this season.

If the Wolverines can beat the Trojans a fourth time, they’ll move on in the playoffs. East Webster can win the series Friday night as the two teams meet at 7 p.m. in Bruce. If the Trojans win, a decisive third game is scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m. in Cumberland.

East Webster hopes to not have to worry about that third game. Roberts thinks the Wolverines can go ahead and clinch the series over Bruce Friday as long as East Webster keeps the right mentality.

“We have to stay confident,” Roberts said. “We have to stay humble.

“We’ve beaten (Bruce) three times this season, but we still have to keep a good head and play like we haven’t beaten them yet.”