Claremore coach Jim Sherl considers Easton Phillips a jack of all trades on the diamond, and for good reason.
Regardless of whether he is playing in the infield, catching, hitting or pitching, the junior seems to always execute the task at hand with excellence. So after the Zebras’ once nine-run lead dwindled to three entering the fifth inning, Sherl’s decision to call Phillips out of the bullpen came as no surprise.
And the righty didn’t disappoint.
Phillips held Duncan, which was fresh off a six-run fourth, scoreless the final three innings, allowing only two hits and no walks while striking out one through 3.1 innings to help Claremore escape with a 10-7 victory Friday afternoon at American Legion Park.
“Easton is a unique kid for us,” Sherl said. “He pitched Tuesday night against Rogers and threw really well. I’d say he’s the poster child for Claremore pitching. He’s not going to come in there and strike a lot of guys out, he’s not going to come in there and throw it by you, he’s not going to have a lot of tricky pitches but what he is going to do is hit his spots, throw strikes, keep the ball down and get you groundballs and fly balls. We never feel like we gotta worry when we put him on the mound; we don’t have to worry about him hitting somebody or walking somebody.
“He’s going to come throw strikes and let our defense play defense.”
Phillips relieved Ethan Grimett late in the fourth after the Demons (7-5) trimmed a 10-1 deficit to 10-7 during that frame.
Grimett, also a junior, gave up a solo home run to Peyton Roberson on only the third pitch of the game, but he responded in a positive manner, allowing one hit through the next 12 at-bats.
However, he began showing signs of fatigue in the fourth as his pitch count crept into the 80s. Duncan took advantage of that fact, leading off the inning with a double before scoring runs on three singles, a triple, a sacrifice fly and a groundout.
“This is his second time to pitch for us now, and both times he’s done really well,” Sherl said of Grimett. “The thing is he’s more of a position player/hitter for us than he is a pitcher, so his arm is not quite in shape. In the fourth inning, he hit 60 pitches and got a little bit tired and left the ball up a little bit, and they put it where we weren’t. He had pretty much reached his pitch limit, and I was wanting to pull him, but they started putting a little pressure on him, so I wanted to see how he responded.”
Claremore’s offense wasted little time counteracting the homer, as Noah Smallwood notched a lead-off triple before scoring on a Brooks Sherl pop out moments later to even the count. Derek Scuggins then stole home four at-bats later, giving the Zebras a permanent lead at 2-1.
That momentum shift continued into the second, with Phillips, Scout Cutsinger, Brooks Sherl, Grimett and Carson Young logging RBI singles while Cameron Palmer registered an RBI double. Gannon Sherl scored on a wild pitch to cap the seven-run inning.
The Zebras’ final run came in the third when Brooks Sherl scored on a wild pitch, increasing the advantage to 10-1.
Claremore (8-4) outhit the Demons 11-10, and Grimett led the charge with a 3-for-4 outing at the plate. Brooks Sherl and Smallwood managed multiple hits as well, accounting for two apiece.
Blake Barnard paced Duncan with a 3-for-4 performance of his own, including the double that sparked its fourth-inning rally. Hunter Prince was the team’s only other multihit batter with two, including a triple.
“They’ve got really good players, and they’re a really good program,” Jim Sherl said. “We like playing them, and hopefully we’ll see them in the state tournament down the road.”
The Zebras close out the Tiger/Zebra Classic against Class 2A powerhouse Oktaha at 3 p.m. Saturday.
The Tigers opened the tournament Thursday with losses to Ft. Gibson (5-2) and Skiatook (9-8) but ended their mini losing streak with an 8-1 win over Glenpool on Friday.
“They are very, very good,” Jim Sherl said. “They are a Class 2A school, and they’re a fall-spring baseball school, so they’ve already played 40-plus games this year and have already been to a state tournament. Every year they’re a top pick to win the state championship. They came in here yesterday and actually got beat twice, which was very shocking; I didn’t expect that. But I expect them to come in here Saturday, and they’ll be gunning for us.
“They’ll have a really good pitcher to face us, and they’ll be ready.”