Nerves are always a bit elevated in these games.
And before his St. Augustine teammates put up four runs in the top of the first inning, Kevin Eaise said he felt them.
"But once they do that, it definitely loosens you up a little bit," Eaise said. "It settles you down."
Working with an early lead, Eaise, a hard-throwing righthander, was comfortable and methodical even as he battled his way out of numerous jams against a hot-hitting team.
"I've been working through jams all year whenever I've been wild. But I knew I had to step it up, especially with the team scoring runs behind me. I just settled in and pitched," Eaise said after throwing 5 1/3 innings, striking out five, walking three and allowing four earned runs while leading St. Augustine to a 7-4 win over host Washington Township Saturday in the quarterfinals of the 44th annual Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic.
The Hermits (18-5) move onto a semifinal matchup with Shawnee Sunday at Eastern.
St. Augustine's last Diamond Classic title was in 2014.
"Washington Township is a tremendous offensive team, so our mindset coming into this game was to jump on them early," said Hermits coach Mike Bylone.
Third baseman Jack Billings led the Hermits' early onslaught. He went 2 for 4 with two RBIs. In the fourth inning, Billings smashed a ball just in front of the right-center field fence for an RBI double and wound up scoring on the play thanks to a two-base throwing error to home plate.
He also drove in the team's first run on a blooper over the second baseman with the bases loaded and one out.
Gerry Peacock and Joe Bonczek also recorded RBI singles in a first inning that saw St. Augustine send nine batters to the plate and score four runs.
"That set the tone," Billings said.
Billings was also responsible for his team's defensive play of the game.
One batter after Eaise was pulled from the game in the sixth inning with runners on first and second and one out, Billings handled a short-hop grounder that was drilled at him, touching third and throwing to first for an inning-ending double play.
In previous innings, it was Eaise helping himself out of jams, including striking out two consecutive batters with the bases loaded in the third.
His only real misstep was in the fourth inning when, with the bases loaded, Alex Gattinelli drilled a ball nearly to the center field fence and hustled his way to a triple, adding a bit more suspense to the end of the game.
But any hope Washington Township (17-7) had for a comeback was halted when Greg Rossi was called for an illegal slide with runners on first and second and no outs in the bottom of the seventh.
The Minutemen had opened the inning with two consecutive singles. But reliever Cole Vanderslice induced a ground ball to shortstop Josh Hood on the third batter of the inning.
Hood tossed it to second basemen Greg Elfreth (2 for 4, RBI) who couldn't turn the double play because of a hard slide by Rossi that was ruled illegal. The batter running to first was called out as a result, and the game was over two batters later.
"We had plenty of chances, but we didn't come through today," said Minutemen coach Bill Alvaro. "But the one thing we do is battle, and we're going to keep doing that every game."
St. Augustine 402 100 0 - 7 9 2
Washington T. 100 300 0 - 4 8 1
WP: Kevin Eaise; LP: Nick Hammer. 2B: SA-Jack Billings, Jake Catalano, Greg Elfreth; 3B: WT-Alex Gatinelli