When El Dorado’s Chance Cotton settled into the dugout in the eighth inning, the realization that he may have pitched his last game hit hard.
“It was almost tear-jerking,” said Cotton, who finished up his college career at Texas-Tyler in the spring. “Sitting in the dugout, thinking that could have been the last time to pitch, I almost came to tears a couple times.”
If it was his last game, wow, what a way to go.
Cotton didn’t allow a hit through seven innings as he led the Broncos to a 1-0 win over the Hays Larks in a National Baseball Congress World Series elimination game at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium on Wednesday.
“We brought him up here to try and get him a look in a situation like this,” El Dorado manager Chad Gerwick said. “What more can you say?
“The kid came out and pitched probably his best game of his life on a big stage. Hopefully that gets him a look.”
Cotton didn’t find out he was starting until 9:40 p.m. Tuesday, which didn’t give him much of a chance to prepare. He decided to focus on having fun and competing.
“The craziest thing is, when I showed up to the park today, I told my coaches I was going to throw a perfect game,” Cotton said.
It was no perfect game. Cotton walked seven and struck out eight in 7 1/3 innings, giving up the lone hit to Hays No. 9 hitter Spencer Neve to open the eighth.
“I just started to smile,” Cotton said about Neve’s hit. “It’s just one of those moments. It was so relaxing that it was over, but it was also so sad that it didn’t happen. In a 1-0 game, you think about it, but you’re much more worried about getting out of every inning, keeping the score right there.”
El Dorado’s run came in the first inning, when leadoff hitter Johnny Coen was hit by a pitch. Three batters later, third baseman Clayton Taylor singled to center, scoring Coen.
“Clay’s kind of struggled the last few games,” Gerwick said. “He did a good job of just going with the pitch. He didn’t try to pull off and hit the ball hard.”
El Dorado had other opportunities to score. The Broncos only had one out on Taylor’s RBI single, but then a baserunning error resulted in an inning-ending double play.
They had the bases loaded in the sixth, but Hays third baseman Ty Gilmore made a beautiful diving stop and throw to first to end the inning.
Cotton left the game with one out in the eighth, after he walked Jake Placzek. Cotton threw 117 pitches.
Even though Cotton wasn’t perfect, he had three pitches working — fastball, slider and curve — and he threw a smart game.
After walking Placzek, the second batter in the first, Cotton coaxed a double-play groundout. In the second and fifth innings, he struck out the final batter looking, both after walks.
“He kind of overthrew a little early with his fastball,” Gerwick said. “I think he thought he had to be real fine and sneak it here and there to set up his slider, which his his best pitch.”
Cotton, who had eight strikeouts, also struck out three in the fourth, which is when he started throwing better.
“We were just trying to work off different pitch counts and try to keep them off balance and grounding out, popping up,” Broncos catcher David Parrett said. “… About the fourth inning, he kind of settled in, hit his spots more.”
“Then in about the fifth inning, I thought ‘I could do this.’ It started to get fun,” he said. “I started to get tired. It was a good feeling.”
El Dorado will play the Santa Barbara (Calif.) Foresters on Thursday night — if Santa Barbara beat the Seattle Studs in Wednesday’s10 p.m. game, El Dorado plays Santa Barbara at 7:30. A Santa Barbara loss puts the Broncos-Foresters game at 10 p.m.
“What kept us around tonight is we pitched and played defense,” Gerwick said. “We hadn’t done that; we did it tonight. We made big plays when we had to, and Cotton pitched a hell of a game.”