BRANDON — In the eyes of Brandon coach Matt Stallbaumer, the formula to surviving a treacherous four-game, six-day run that could end up defining a season hinged on pitching and defense.
Having been able to save junior left-hander Chase Sparkman for the finale, Brandon's pivotal Class 6A-8 tilt against Alonso on Thursday night, was the key ingredient.
Sparkman, rarely used in a starting role, turned in arguably the best game of his high school career, throwing 62/3 scoreless innings of one-hit ball against the defending Class 6A state champion in a 5-0 win.
The victory, which completed a stretch that included wins over rival Armwood and district foes Bloomingdale and Plant, put Brandon (10-2, 5-1) in command of the district race.
"The positive of playing this many games in a week is that it's allowing you to get in a rhythm," Stallbaumer said. "The negative is if you're not playing well, is it a good thing? For us, it's been a good thing."
For Stallbaumer, the stretch evoked memories of Brandon's 18-game winning streak two years ago during the Eagles' run to the Class 5A state semifinals.
"The heart and soul of this team was part of one not too long ago," Stallbaumer said. "As sophomores they felt what it was like to bring it to the ballpark every day. For our younger kids to get that feeling, it's important."
Alonso (8-4, 3-3), which has now lost more games than it did during all of last season, was snakebit from the start.
Ravens starting pitcher Thomas Dorminy yielded just three hits but allowed five runs, including two unearned in the first inning after the first two hitters reached base on a wild pitch third strike and a throwing error. Both scored.
Sparkman didn't allow a hit for 52/3 innings, his no-hitter broken up by a Tyler Ding single.
"We know we're going to score runs," Sparkman said. "We just needed to make sure we got our pitching down."
And Brandon's big bats produced — centerfielder James Ramsay hit an RBI double that hit off the 380-foot marker in centerfield in a two-run third, and catcher Roderick Shoulders hit a mammoth homer in the fifth.
"It seemed like when the top of our lineup came around we made them make pitches," Stallbaumer said. "The answer was playing defense right behind that. Tonight from the first pitch to last pitch, we put together a good game."