‘Rubber band’ Qualls keys Rancho win

With his team heading into an elimination game Wednesday, Rancho baseball coach Tom Pletsch dreamed of sending a veteran pitcher to the mound.

In the absence of such experience, he had to settle for a sophomore.

Zakery Qualls, who started the game with a 4-6 record and a 6.73 ERA, came through convincingly.

Qualls gave up two earned runs in 7 2/3 innings to lead the fifth-seeded Rams past No. 8 Arbor View 4-2 in the American Legion state tournament at Wilson Stadium.

“Zak is really a quality pitcher,” said Pletsch, whose team will face defending state champion and top-seeded Bishop Gorman in the semifinals, scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. today.

“He’s just been a little inconsistent this summer. But tonight we asked him to carry us through seven innings, and he did just that.”

The Rams spotted Qualls a 2-0 lead in the first inning, courtesy of an RBI single by Kevin Kline and a bases-loaded walk surrendered by Aggies starter Zachary Quintana.

Quintana gained a bit of redemption when he opened the second inning with a towering home run to cut the Rancho lead to 2-1.

“After I got through those first couple of innings, I knew I was going to be able to get through the game,” said Qualls, who used his signature knuckle-change to strike out nine batters. “I was just trying to give my teammates what they wanted.”

But Pletsch said he never lost faith in his sophomore starter.

“Zak is like a rubber band,” the coach said. “When he’s on, he can give us 100 to 120 pitches.”

Rancho (21-18) squandered a bases-loaded opportunity in the bottom of the third inning before scoring two runs to go ahead 4-1 in the sixth with the help of an Arbor View error and another RBI single by Kline.

But the Aggies (18-18) battled back in the eighth, chasing Qualls after cutting the deficit to 4-2 on an RBI single by Christopher Manning.

The Aggies put two runners in scoring position with two outs.

Eric Holdren came on in relief for the Rams to record the last out. He stayed in the game to strike out three and get the save.

Brandon Pletsch went 3-for-4 with a triple to help the Rams, who will start staff ace Holdren against Gorman today.

“This is the matchup we’ve been waiting to see,” Pletsch said.

* Sierra Vista 8, Coronado 4 — The Lions (42-16) fell behind early before rallying to eliminate the Cougars.

Brooks Klein went 2-for-5 with a double and two RBIs to lead Sierra Vista’s 12-hit attack. Teammate Tommy Barnes allowed three earned runs in eight innings to get the victory.

The Lions will play Reno in a semifinal game at 5 p.m. today.

Matt Hall went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs to lead Coronado (14-13).

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