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Patoka wins EIC for first time since 2004

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By Seth Whitehead

It was one of the few times all game that Drew Baldridge needed some help.

The junior righty had just recorded his 10th strikeout Monday, putting the Patoka baseball team on the brink of its first Egyptian-Illini Conference regular-season title since 2004.

But Beecher City still had runners on second and third with two outs in the seventh - and Baldridge admits he was running on fumes.

Fortunately for the Warriors, catcher Derek Back picked up his pitcher by picking off an unsuspecting runner at third base, closing out a 5-0 Warriors win.

"I was glad to see him pick him off; I was tired," Baldridge said. "He's been doing that all year, throwing out a lot of people for us."

The win closed out a perfect EIC regular-season run for the Warriors in style

"I was almost teary-eyed out there talking to them after the game," Warriors coach Clayton Cain Jr. said. "They've got a lot to be proud of, going undefeated (in the EIC) and, definitely, beating a good team today."

The Warriors (12-4, 6-0) were ready from the get-go.

Baldridge helped his own cause with an RBI groundout in the first, and the host team never looked back.

"We knew what was on the line," Baldridge said. "We played these guys last year (for a conference title) and they beat us, so we wanted to prove ourselves this year."

Back scored the Warriors' first run after doubling to lead off the game, and he picked another runner off third base in the sixth to help Baldridge preserve his shutout.

"He's as good a catcher as there is around here," Cain said. "He's definitely got his props coming."

And when Beecher City wasn't shooting itself in the foot by challenging the Warriors' talented catcher, it was busy getting baffled by Baldridge's ample assortment of pitches.

Of Baldridge's 10 strikeouts, five were on called strikes, as the Eagles (6-7, 4-1) had trouble timing a new pitch.

"I've been working on a splitter for the last two years, and this was the first year I actually decided to throw it," Baldridge said. "It's been working out for me."

Baldridge moved to 4-1 on the year with his second straight complete-game victory.

"Drew pitched a whale of a game," Cain said. "He controlled the tempo on the mound and mixed up his pitches well and kept them off balance."

The Warriors had just four hits in support of Baldridge - but they were all very loud and productive.

Luke Murfin gave Baldridge a little breathing room in the third, breaking out of a slump with a two-run homer over the left-centerfield fence.

Baldridge sent a similar blast over the left-centerfield fence in the sixth for a solo homer, and Tyler Payne missed launching Patoka's 17th homer of the fall by a few feet moments later, settling for an RBI double off the right-field fence.

Despite getting some insurance, Baldridge was a bit out of sorts in the final frame.

"After hitting the home run, I was so excited," Baldridge said. "I was a little wild - I just couldn't calm down."

A single, walk and wild pitch put runners on second and third with one out, but Baldridge settled down enough to record another strikeout before Back made an Eagles runner pay dearly for straying too far off third base.

Patoka now awaits the pairings for next week's EIC tournament. The Warriors know three things at the moment: They'll be the No. 1 seed. They'll play at home Tuesday. And they are primed for a championship run, with Baldridge, Cody Wimberly and Luke Murfin well rested and ready to pitch.

"My pitching's healthy for a small school," Cain said. "We don't play again until next week, so I'm coming back with kids just like Drew. Cody's pitched some great games this year, and Luke - although he's struggled the last couple games - is capable of coming in and totally shutting a team down.

"I think everybody should feel pumped up," Baldridge said. "I know I am."

Note: Patoka lost starting second baseman and leadoff hitter Nick Beard for the remainder of the fall after he suffered a broken wrist last Wednesday in a loss to North Clay. Beard was enjoying a breakout season in which he was hitting .359 with four homers.

Saturday's Game

Windsor 12, Patoka 7

Wimberly launched his sixth homer of the fall and finished 2-for-4 with three RBIs, but Windsor prevailed on the road in a nonconference affair.

Zach Thompson added two triples and two RBIs to a 12-hit Patoka attack, while Zach Wadkins was 2-for-3 with an RBI.

Thursday's Game

Patoka 12, Ramsey 2

The Warriors wrapped up at least a share of the Egyptian-Illini Conference regular-season title with an easy road victory over the Rams.

Patoka wasted little time blowing the game open, as the first four batters it sent to the plate smacked base hits as part of a four-run first inning. The Warriors won via the 10-run mercy rule, thanks to a six-run sixth.

Wimberly continued his torrid hitting, finishing 4-for-4 with a homer, in addition to improving to 3-0 with a solid effort on the mound. Drew Baldridge, Luke Murfin and John Spicer added two hits apiece in a winning effort.