After outscoring its last three opponents by a combined score of 41-10 — including a 20-6 rout of No. 1 Darlington — the 10th-ranked Eagles showed they could grind out a close one with their 2-1 Region 6A win Thursday at Walker.
Mount Paran (11-1, 5-0) scored one run in each of the first and second innings, just enough for starting pitcher Jordan VerSteeg to settle in and pick up the win, which included him pitching after a weather delay in the fifth inning.
A pitchers’ duel developed between VerSteeg, his reliever Andrew Maxwell and Walker’s Dillon Swaggerty.
VerSteeg gave up three hits and struck out five in five innings, while Maxwell allowed one earned run in his two innings.
Swaggerty pitched a complete game, allowing two runs — one earned — on five hits with 11 strikeouts. At one point, the senior struck out seven in a row.
“I’ll take a win any way we can get it,” Mount Paran coach Harvey Cochran said. “Our kids really believe in themselves, and they’re playing well. It was a good night, and now we’re 5-0 in the region.
“(Swaggerty) pitched really well for them, and VerSteeg was on, too. It was a great battle between those two guys, and we had Maxwell out to close it. I’m really proud of these kids.”
Mount Paran took advantage of Walker miscues to open up its 2-0 lead through two innings. It took a while for Swaggerty — who gave up four hits, hit a batter and walked two through the first three innings — to handle the Eagles’ batters.
Jake Palomaki walked to lead off the game, and back-to-back singles from Matt McKenzie and Maxwell loaded the bases for Mount Paran with no outs. After Ryan Murphy grounded into a double play to score Palomaki, a flyout ended the inning without any further damage.
The Eagles earned the insurance run in the second. Landen Faulkner hit a two-out single up the middle and stole second. Colton Cannon then swung at a third strike, but the ball went to the backstop and an error on the catcher’s throw to first base allowed Faulkner to score.
Walker (7-5, 3-2) had a few chances to get on the board early, but the Wolverines left runners at first and third in the first inning and stranded one 90 feet away in the third.
“We fell short (Thursday),” Walker coach Mike Brady said. “We pitched well enough to win, but mistakes hurt us. We gave up a walk to the first batter in the first inning that ended up coming around to score on us. We could have been out of the inning in the second with the strikeout, but an error allowed their guy to score.
“We talk about that all the time, that you can’t let those kinds of mistakes happen, and that’s what hurt us. VerSteeg pitched a great game and got out of a few innings, but we hurt ourselves and couldn’t get the help we needed at the plate.”
Lightning in the area lead to a 48-minute delay with two outs in the bottom of the fifth — one out shy of the game becoming official. But the game resumes, VerSteeg finished the inning when play resumed and Maxwell took over in the sixth.
The reliever gave up a leadoff walk to Taylor Portschy, who came around to score on Kyle Irwin’s one-out groundout, trimming Walker’s deficit to 2-1.
But Maxwell ended the inning with a strikeout and then retired the side in the seventh to earn the save.
James Clements, Swaggerty and Chace Dulaney also had hits for Walker.
From the mound, Swaggerty struck out seven straight batters at one point late in the game.
Maxwell and Faulkner each batted 2-for-3 for Mount Paran. Faulkner also stole two bases.