MURRAY Even as Cottonwood pitcher Kendall Mayer returned to the mound as a starter after a month of rehabilitation from tendonitis in his right shoulder, plenty of unanswered questions remained.
How would his throwing arm hold up under several innings? Had the tendonitis impacted his pitch selection or robbed his pitches of their speed and velocity?
Mayer experienced some ups and downs in four innings. But he and reliever Zach Adams did more than enough to keep the Colts moving forward in their quest to successfully defend another 4A baseball title.
Adams and Mayer combined for 13 strikeouts to lead Cottonwood to a hard-fought 5-1 first round victory over the Braves at Cottonwood High on Tuesday afternoon.
"He pretty much just pitched on guts," Colts coach Jon Hoover said of Mayer. "He didn't have his good stuff. He didn't have command of his (pitches). He was all over the place."
Mayer earned eight strikeouts by himself, although he struggled at times to rein in his pitches. There was one sequence in the third inning, for example, where he tossed a ball right over the helmet of Kelon Oberg and then struck out the Braves outfielder on the very next pitch.
"Control wasn't there for me at first," Mayer said. "It was one of those days where you don't have your secondary pitches or your control. All you can rely on is your competitiveness."
Even with a few wild pitches, Mayer said his shoulder felt good. It still had lingering tenderness as recently as a week ago when he pitched in relief during a region game.
Bountiful was able to give Cottonwood a tighter game than the Colts traditionally experience in the first round of the state tournament with some solid pitching of its own. Braves starter Adam Dell went six innings and struck out six batters during that stretch.
He earned half of those in the first inning and Bountiful took advantage by jumping out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the second when Tyson Herrick drove in Oberg with a grounder past shortstop Dalton Gust.
The lead didn't last long. Cottonwood evened the score in the bottom of the second when Jason Bilanzich drove in Austin Robbs on a single to right field. The Colts made it 2-1 before the inning was over when Brayden Payne scored on a sacrifice fly by Eric Doi.
Cottonwood extended its advantage to 4-1 in the fifth. Ryan Thomas plunked the ball out to second base to drive in Doi. Stephen Rodgers scored a second run in on the same play, following an error by Braves catcher Zach Jones.
The way the game played out stood in sharp contrast to first-round games in 2006 and 2007 where the Colts won by an average score of 12-0.
Hoover thinks it could benefit his team in the long run to get pushed to the limit so early in the playoffs."This is the kind of a game you like to have because it was anybody's game for a long time," Hoover said.