Eric Ashcraft had what he called a pedestrian hitting effort during the American Legion Central Lakes Regional tournament.
So on Friday he took extra batting practice, and it paid substantial dividends a few hours later.
Ashcraft went 5 for 6, including a two-run home run, to lead Moline (Ill.) to a 15-7 win over Branford (Conn.) in a World Series opener at Avista Stadium.
His hitting was infectious. The Illinois state champions tied an ALWS record with 22 hits.
The 5-foot-10, 160-pound Ashcraft hit .345 at regionals, going 10 for 29 and knocking in 10 runs in six games. He had five RBIs and came within a whisker of hitting for the cycle Friday.
“It’s the best game I’ve ever had,” said Ashcraft, who will be a senior at Moline High this fall. “I wasn’t hitting the ball good at regionals, not like I usually do, and we had batting practice today and I just felt a lot more comfortable.”
In his fifth at bat in the seventh inning, Ashcraft hit a sharp line drive that was misplayed by Branford’s right fielder. The ball got past the outfielder and it appeared Ashcraft – who needed just a triple to complete the cycle – had a chance as he rounded first.
Ashcraft, knowing a triple would give him the cycle, looked toward third base and saw his coach, Jim Zacharewicz, had put up the stop sign.
He admitted that he thought about running through the stop sign. Had it been a regular-season game he probably would have ignored his coach. But he was concerned that if he got thrown out at third, it could put the brakes on Moline’s momentum.
“I was thinking ‘If I get one in the gap I’ve got to go three’, but I saw my coach hold me up and I respect that,” Ashcraft said. “That could have been a game changer there (if I got thrown out).”
He came to the plate in the top of the ninth with a chance to tie an ALWS for most individual hits in a game. But he hit a chopper to the pitcher who threw him out.
Ashcraft became the 11th player in ALWS history to collect five hits in a game.
“When things aren’t going well he wants to take extra cuts and when things are going well he wants to take extra cuts,” Zacharewicz said. “He works hard and it pays off for him on the field.”
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