ZACHARY -- Denham Springs High coach Mark Carroll was more encouraged by his team’s overall body of work than Thursday’s 7th-inning sample size.
What could have been difficult to find positives in the rubble of a disheartening 4-3 loss to first-place Zachary – allowing a pair of unearned runs in the bottom of the 7th – proved more encouraging in Carroll’s big-picture approach.
“The main thing was how they played,” Carroll said. “(Taylor Higgins has) been out with a concussion and came back and pitched well. We’re getting more quality at-bats from our guys. We’re getting close to getting our act together.”
Denham (17-10-1, 3-4 District 4-5A) had its act long enough to push Zachary (21-8, 6-0) to the brink for the second time in District 4-5A play.
Two weeks ago the Yellow Jackets dropped a 2-1 decision in 10 innings vs. the Broncos.
“They’re all like that in this district, that’s why it’s so fun to coach in this district,” Carroll said. “Every time you come out you better be ready to play with every single team that’s in it. You’re going to see good teams every time you walk out. That’s how you want it to be.”
DSHS snapped a 2-2 tie in the 7th inning on Dawson Albin’s RBI single to center field that scored Brock Batty, who had doubled with one out.
Higgins didn’t resemble a pitcher making his first appearance in two weeks since sustaining a concussion in practice.
The senior left-hander limited Zachary to a pair of unearned runs in the 6th and checked the Broncos on three hits through 6 innings.
“Coach Carroll had a process and I trusted in it and had me back ready to go,” Higgins said. “On my off days I focused on getting my stamina back and went to the football field and ran.”
Higgins maintained a manageable pitch count, having thrown 87 pitches entering the 7thinning when disaster struck to start the frame.
Center fielder Brent Huffman dropped Alex Milazzo’s fly ball, prompting Carroll to replace Higgins with Batty, who was at first base.
“He made a catch the other night that saved a game,” Carroll said of Huffman, who replaced Caleb Passman earlier in the game. “In the long run I’ll take him catching those all the time. It’s a cruel game. Mistakes always find you and bite you. That’s the nature of this game.”
Zachary’s second batter, Rhett Hebert, also reached when he sacrificed Milazzo and took advantage of Batty’s bobble to gain first base.
Both runners moved up on Cranford Collier’s sacrifice bunt when Keilon Brown laid down a safety squeeze that Albin got to, but couldn’t get the ball out of his glove in time to prevent Milazzo from scoring the tying run.
“I thought we had a shot at him, I really did,” Carroll said. “We’ve got to know before the pitch is thrown where we’re going, where the priority is and what we’re doing. We’ve got to execute that. That’s a good learning situation for the playoffs. He’ll make that play next time.”
Batty, a UL signee, got a strikeout for the second out before loading the bases on a four-pitch walk to River Town. The senior then hit Grant Quinn with his first pitch, forcing in Hebert with the game-winning run.
“This was gut punch, but it was a good game,” Higgins said. “We had a lot of good at bats. Defense can get better, but we’re going to focus on the next game (Saturday at Central at 1 p.m.) and build from this.”
Denham, which outhit Zachary 9-3 but left 10 men on base, led 1-0 when Braden Doughty sent a 0-and-2 pitch back up the middle, driving in Cade Doughty (2-for-4) after he led off the 3rd with a double.
The Yellow Jackets bumped their lead to 2-0 in the 6th when Josh Preston, who started his first game, doubled and later scored on Cade Doughty’s single into left field.
Higgins yielded one hit through five hits and three base runners overall, two of which were erased on a pickoff in the 2nd and a caught stealing an inning later. He walked two, hit a pair of batters and had six strikeouts.
“Overall I’m pleased with the way the kids played,” Carroll said. “They got in there and competed and played real hard. It’s a good ball game prepping you for the playoffs.”
ZACHARY 4, DSHS 3
DSHS 001 001 1 -- 3 9 3
Zachary 000 002 2 -- 4 3 1
Taylor Higgins, Brock Batty (7) and Braden Doughty; Nathan Keller, Robert Burke (6) and Alex Milazzo. W -- Burke. L -- Batty. 2B: DSHS -- Cade Doughty, Batty, Josh Preston. Records: DSHS 17-10-1, 3-4 District 4-5A; Zachary 21-8, 6-0. Up next: DSHS at Central, 1 p.m. Saturday; Zachary at Live Oak, 1:30 p.m. Saturday.