The calendar still reads April, but there was one sure sign that Silverado baseball coach Brian Whitaker had the playoffs on his mind Thursday.
He used David Kuzma in relief.
Kuzma, the Skyhawks’ No. 1 starter, picked up a two-inning save in his first relief appearance of the season, and host Silverado held off Rancho 3-1 in a key Northeast League game.
“It was a big league-game situation for us,” Whitaker said. “He’s our guy. All our cards were on the table at that point.”
Kuzma, who pitched three innings in Tuesday’s win over Canyon Springs, entered with Silverado clinging to a 2-1 advantage.
The senior right-hander blew through the heart of Rancho’s order in the sixth inning, needing only seven pitches — all strikes — and set down the Rams in order in the seventh.
“I was ready,” said Kuzma, who entered with a 5-2 record and 2.14 ERA. “My adrenaline was pumping. I just tried to get them to put it in play and let my defense work.”
The win kept the Skyhawks (10-13, 4-2 Northeast) tied with Las Vegas for second place with four games left in the regular season and gave them the head-to-head tiebreaker with Rancho (17-8, 3-3).
“Being able to sweep a team like Rancho is a plus for us,” Whitaker said. “Obviously, our first step is to try to qualify for a playoff spot and go from there.”
Silverado manufactured a run without a hit in the bottom of the fifth to take a 2-1 lead. With one out and runners on first and third, Vincent Taormina tapped a potential double-play ball to Rams second baseman Braulio Santiaguin.
However, Santiaguin elected to tag Nick Kawano rather than flipping to shortstop Keifer McLendon at the bag. That gave Taormina enough time to beat Santiaguin’s low throw to first as pinch runner Ryan Colby scored.
Hunter Welch added a run-scoring single in the sixth for the Skyhawks.
Kawano threw five strong innings, allowing five hits while striking out four and keeping Rancho’s hitters off balance. After McLendon’s run-scoring single in the first inning staked the Rams to a 1-0 lead, Kawano retired 11 of the next 12 batters before he ran into trouble in the fifth.
One-out singles by Andrew Weiger and Robert Spinelli put runners on the corners for Rancho, but Kawano struck out Bryce Harrell on a changeup and got Eric Allen to lift a lazy fly ball to Dylan Brand in right that ended the threat.
Kuzma did the rest.
“We have a young team and we’re not making adjustments,” Rancho coach Tom Pletsch said. “We’re a work in progress. Some days the kids buy in and get it done, and some days they don’t put the ball in play.”
Contact reporter David Schoen at email@example.com or 702-387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidSchoenLVRJ.
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