Kerns gave up just two hits — one of which was a miscommunication single in the infield — and struck out seven as the Indians moved one win away from advancing to next weekend’s double-elimination state tournament.
“Cody was able to grind it out,” Elko coach Shane Gilligan said. “He wasn’t as sharp as his previous outing, but he kept them off-balance with his change-up. He kept himself out of trouble by throwing strikes.”
The Tribe broke through in the bottom of the second but squandered an opportunity to blow it open.
Francisco Lievanos doubled with one out to jumpstart the offense. Later in the inning with runners on the corners, Kerns dropped a single into shallow right to score Lievanos, but the Indians left the bases loaded. They stranded seven runners in the game and had two thrown out at second base.
“They played well, put the ball in play and kept grinding it out,” Gilligan said of his team’s effort. “They really stuck with our game plan. We ran up (Sparks starting pitcher Jared Longland) pitch count. He was over 80 pitches after four innings.”
While Elko spent the early innings looking for a big hit, the Railroaders were just searching for a hit. They were hitless through the first four innings. They did threaten to tie the game in the bottom of the fourth after a lead-off walk to Quinn Lightfoot. He advanced around to third thanks to a sacrifice bunt and a ground out, but he was left standing there.
“We just need to come out and play our type of baseball tomorrow,” Sparks coach Greg Vasko said. “We hit the ball hard at people, and Elko played good defense. We just need to do a better job hitting.”
The Railroaders’ James McCarty broke up the no-hitter in the fifth. He hit a chopper to the right side of the infield. Kerns fielded it, but no one covered first on the play. The base runner was erased as Elko shortstop J.T. Pete turned a double play on the next ground ball.
Gilligan said his defense needed to clean up a few of the mental mistakes that were made Friday.
Elko tacked on three insurance runs in the fifth. Tommy Headley drew a walk to start the frame. Dalton Ridgway followed with a grounder to short. The ball was fielded cleanly, but the throw to second to get Headley pulled Sparks second baseman Casey Carter off the bag.
It was one of just two Sparks errors, but it was costly. With runners on the corners and one out, Zack Armstrong hit a grounder to short. This time the Railroaders got the runner at second, but Headley scored. The next two Elko batters — Damian Benavides and Lievanos — connected for consecutive doubles to deep left field to push the score to 4-0.
Kerns and Lievanos were each 2-for-3 at the plate for the Tribe.
Vasko said his team played well, but “(Elko) just hit the ball well when they needed to hit the ball well.”
While the Indians won the game, Gilligan wants to see his offense do better capitalizing on opportunities. They were 3-for-15 Friday with runners on base.
“We have to have some better approaches, especially in our bunting game,” he said. “Twice we bunted at balls out of the strike zone.”
Sparks lone run came with one out in the seventh. L.B. Rose hit a shot to deep center for a double and advanced to third on a balk. Longland hit a ground ball to short to score the run.
Game 2 of the best-of-three series is set for 10 a.m today.