MYERSTOWN - This spring's Section Three baseball race is set to play out as nip and tuck as they come.
Nearly as close as the 10-inning game between its top two contenders Monday.
Led by ace Cole Blatt, first-place Elco went toe-to-toe with then runner-up Cocalico and fell in a 2-0 defeat at Lyle Krall Field. Blatt and Eagles starter Tyler Stricker each tossed nine scoreless frames, before Stricker knocked in Justin Burd and later came around to score himself in the top of the 10th. Burd then doubled off pinch-runner Nate Hostetter at second base in the home half of the inning, sinking a no-out Raiders rally.
Elco (3-2, 3-1 Section Three) watched its three-game win streak come to a close, while Cocalico (4-2, 3-1) snapped a 16-inning scoreless stretch.
"Big game. They were the team with the best record in the section, and it was on their home field," Eagles coach Mike Bertolino said. "Just a couple great pitching performances. Holy cow, Blatt pitched well. I have nothing but praise for that kid.
"We just made the plays when we needed them."
Blatt surrendered five total hits to Cocalico, which quickly generated a pair in three at-bats against reliever Tyler Price - Stricker's RBI single and a leadoff Burd double. The Raiders had enjoyed a similar opening in the bottom of the first, but failed to score with their third out called at home plate. From there, they failed to string quality at-bats together and get a handle on Stricker's 12-6 curveball.
"We struggled making adjustments at the plate today," Elco coach Chris Weidner said. "We were fortunate last week to be front-runners a little bit in that we scored early, and we're built to win with pitching and defense. But it helps us tremendously when we get on the board first."
The Raiders' inability to crack the scoreboard also stemmed from tremendous Eagles defense. Making a tumbling dive toward center, Burd snared a surefire extra-base hit in the bottom of the eighth, one inning after Nick Lucky laid out to grab a bounding grounder near second, seemingly destined to become a leadoff single.
"I was thinking the whole game the first run would be it," Burd said. "Luckily we all came together and got one."
And a big one at that.