OAK RIDGE NORTH – The temperature continued to drop notch by notch Monday night, but young Nolan Roycraft of The Woodlands was providing fire on the mound.
It was 49 degrees when it ended, but Rice’s effort struck out seven in the last three innings in a complete game as the Highlanders swept District 13-6A season series 9-1 in Oak Ridge.
“His fastball worked and his curveball worked,” said Woodlands coach Ron Eastman of Roycraft, a 6-foot-4 lefty. But he was spotting his fastball in and out and was able to run his curveball for shots.
The victory starts a challenging stretch for the Highlanders (12-5-1, 2-1).
Monday’s game was a trick after Friday’s rain. The Woodlands then started its series with New Caney on Saturday and fell 2-0.
Roycraft gave the Highlanders much-needed stability to start the week as he struck 12, gave up just three hits, and the run went unearned.
“I kept throwing shots at them,” Roycraft said. “I knew my defense would back me up. I knew I had to get out. Breaking things worked well, the switch was starting late in the game. That’s all I needed.
The Woodlands moved up Oak Ridge (5-9, 0-2) in the top of the first when Tyler Howard hit a sacrifice fly. Howard then made it 2-0 in the third with his second sacrifice fly.
“We haven’t swung the bat very well the last couple of weeks,” Eastman said. “We didn’t score any points. To go out and score nine points against a good team like that… let’s hope it gets us going here.”
Oak Ridge pulled back to the inside of one in the bottom of third after Aidan Morgan caught up on a walk. Morgan attempted to steal second and the ball was initially reversed on a pick-off play. Morgan then scored on an RBI corner by Jaden Craig.
It was all The Woodlands from there as he scored another seven runs, including five in the top of the seventh.
Tennessee pledge Brayden Sharp hit an RBI triple to center in the fifth inning. He then scored on a Jack Johnson sacrifice fly.
After three consecutive walks loaded the bases in the seventh, The Woodlands had a two-run single by Bryce Graves and Jake Esocovedo followed by a three-run homer to right field.
Roycraft came in and took out three – all in pursuit – to close out the game.
“I had a chance to walk out of the game last inning and just wanted to finish it up and save my (teammates) for the rest of the week,” Roycraft said.
Eastman was pleased with Rice’s exit from the commit.
“He pitched well for us in tournaments,” Eastman said. “We really needed him to pick us up today after we went down offensively on Saturday. Excellent performance by Nolan. He came to pick us up.”
Oak Ridge, which was hit by the injury bug, used five pitchers on the night. Justin Bryant started and went four innings with two earned runs allowed.
“We need to have better approaches to the plate,” Oak Ridge coach JJ Peirce said. “That doesn’t take anything away from (Roycraft), they’ve done a great job. We have to be better. It’s that simple. We need to have more urgency and not sit around thinking it’s just going to happen.
The Woodlands won Game 1 of the series last Tuesday, 3-0. Sharp struck out nine in five innings and hit a three-run homer.
Oak Ridge has a bye on Tuesday before a home series with New Caney on Friday and Saturday.
The Woodlands return to Scotland Yard on Tuesday to continue the series with New Caney. He then hosts Conroe Friday and hits I-45 on Saturday to play the Tigers on the road. Afterwards, The Woodlands will begin a series in Grand Oaks next Tuesday.
“When we established this schedule last year, we knew rain could be a problem,” Eastman said. “We have to play five district games in eight days. This will really test us. Not everyone will have to do this. I think we have the depth and for Nolan to go out there and do that today, that really helped.