Placer falls to unbeaten Lincoln baseball team

Hillmen get strong outing from Knoble but leave too many runners on base
By: Matthew Kimel, Journal sports editor
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Placer played small ball.

And if the Hillmen could have caught a couple of breaks, the outcome might have been different.

But Placer left too many runners stranded in scoring position and gave up four late runs in a 7-1 loss at James Field against unbeaten Lincoln Friday night under the lights.

The Hillmen’s second defeat in two days leaves them with a 3-8 record overall and three games back in the Pioneer Valley League standings behind 4-0 Colfax and Lincoln.

Despite Friday’s score, Placer put together a much stronger outing than Thursday’s 8-1 loss at Bear River.

“We struggled yesterday just to get people on base,” Placer coach John Hilton said. “So we did play a lot of small ball. We’re just trying to get people on base and make the defense work a little bit and get them out of position. We took major strides. We’re very happy with the strides we took from yesterday to today.”

Relief pitcher Luke Knoble put together a good outing on the mound for Placer, allowing just one run on five hits in 4 2/3 innings of work.

“It was nice to give him another shot out there,” Hilton said. “We used him last week a little bit because he’s been injured most of the season. He’s still not 100 percent. Tonight he was part of the package we wanted to try tonight against Lincoln.

“We know they’re a great fastball-hitting team. With Kodiak (Gregersen) and Knoble and (Troy) Taylor, they have a natural, slow changeup type of pitching. None of them knew how many innings they were going to go and Luke gave us a boost tonight.”

Placer was able to manufacture a run in the first inning to tie the score at 1-1 after Lincoln got on the board against starter Gregersen in the opening frame.

Todd Valliere, who for the second straight day scored the Hillmen’s only run, got aboard with a leadoff walk. An Isaac Brahce sacrifice bunt pushed Valliere over to second before a Chip Mitchell groundout advanced Valliere to third. Valliere eventually scored on a wild pitch.

The Hillmen, however, weren’t able to get any runners home in the following six innings even though they had other runners in scoring position in the first, third, fourth, fifth and sixth.

Lincoln, which scored the game-winning run in the second, left its fair share of runners on base, too.

Knoble worked his way out bases-loaded jams in the second, third and fourth. He helped his own cause in the third with a 1-2-3 inning-ending double play.

“He dug deep and was able to pitch out of bases-loaded situations a couple of times,” Hilton said of Knoble.

In the fourth, an unassisted double play by sophomore third baseman Zach Madrigal saved the Hillmen a few runs as well.

“I liked our mental approach in today’s game,” Hilton said. “Those same situations, yesterday, we probably wouldn’t have made those plays. But tonight we came ready to play — playing for each other. We had excitement when we played today. I know we came out on the short end, but they had energy and it made it fun to play.”

Kody Kencke, who went 3 for 4, led Lincoln offensively with two singles and a two-RBI double. He also scored two runs.

Julio Martinez got the start for Lincoln (10-0) and was relieved by Jake Sola in the fourth. Sola pitched three innings before Ethan Liddle closed out the seventh.  

Placer tallied four hits in the contest, a day after Valliere recorded the team’s only hit.

Austin LeBleu singled in the first, but the Hillmen left him on third.

Valliere singled in the second after Davis Jenkins drew a walk. Another Brahce sacrifice bunt got the runners to second and third but the next two Hillmen struck out to end the inning.

Brahce bunted safely in the fifth and made it to third after stealing two bases. But he too was left on base.

Riley Beames blasted a two-out double to the left-field fence in the sixth, but again the Hillmen went down swinging.

The Hillmen are now off until Monday morning, when they take on Rio Linda at the Cordova Easter Tournament. Rio Linda beat Placer on opening day at James Field 10-0. First pitch at Sullivan Field is scheduled for 10 a.m.  

Reach Matthew Kimel at Follow him on Twitter @matthewkimel