When sophomore pitcher Mac Lardner gets nervous, he likes to keep things simple: Deep breaths and focus.
The Templeton High left-hander admitted to having plenty of nerves prior to Friday’s CIF-Southern Section Division 5 first-round home playoff game.
Thanks to his calm approach, they never showed, and what took their place was a masterful performance that carried the Eagles into the second round.
“It was win or go home, so there were definitely a lot of nerves,” said Lardner, who orchestrated a complete-game, two-hit gem in a 3-0 win over La Puente. “There was more at stake, a bigger crowd and a bigger game.”
The southpaw struck out seven, allowed just two ground ball hits and one walk and faced only one batter over the minimum.
“I felt good,” Lardner said. “Everything was working, and guys were making plays behind me. I had all the confidence in the world with (catcher) Shane Campbell behind the plate. A runner on third, I know I can throw a curveball in the dirt and he’d block it.”
Thing is, Lardner never let a runner reach third base. In fact, a single in the top of the seventh and a passed ball gave the Warriors their only runner at second.
Lardner struck out the next batter on a breaking ball in the dirt to end the game on just his 75th pitch.
“He always does a nice job and doesn’t give us much to do,” junior outfielder Jake Walsh said. “It gives us strong confidence for the days to come.”
Senior shortstop Spencer Howard tripled and doubled to drive in a pair of runs, and outfielder Shane Wyatt’s bunt single in the sixth — part of a three-hit day for the freshman — provided an added insurance run in a game Templeton felt should not have been nearly as close.
“We should have scored more runs,” said Walsh, who doubled and scored the Eagles’ first run on Howard’s first-inning triple to left. “That game should have been 8-0 easily. The fact we only scored three is a little ridiculous.”
And Templeton had plenty of chances.
The Eagles (15-11) racked up 10 hits on La Puente’s ace, Anthony Burchette. But despite having at least two baserunners in five of six innings, Templeton failed to break the game open.
“Overall, (Lardner’s) pitching performance bailed us out,” coach Brad Macomber said, “because we would have gotten our butts kicked if we didn’t have that pitching performance or we faced a team that was going to swing the bats a little better.”
Macomber said the Eagles “made more mistakes this one game than we made pretty much our whole league season,” including three missed signs in one at-bat and failing to score a run in the fifth despite loading the bases with one out.
But with Lardner dealing and the Warriors unable to stay back on his level-dropping changeup, the 2-0 lead was all the cushion necessary.
“That’s the way he is: He does not get fazed at all, and that’s big for us, because we didn’t play well,” Macomber said. “His pitching performance masked a lot of mistakes.”
Lardner faced just three hitters in each of the first six innings, and four in the seventh. He negated a leadoff walk in the second by picking the runner off at first, and a leadoff single in the fourth was nullified by an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.
He improved to 6-2 on the year and lowered his ERA, which was 1.11 coming in.
“I control my breathing,” Lardner said of his nerves. “Really, I just make sure I’m breathing. It’s really that simple. Big deep breaths slow everything down.”
The Eagles advance to face Oak Hills, the bracket’s third seed, Tuesday. A coin flip will determine the location, and Macomber will be looking for better team focus against a squad that won last year’s Division 5 crown.
“They’re teenagers, and they must have a lot of things going on in their lives that I’m not aware of,” he said. “And maybe it’s hard to put that stuff aside when you come in between the lines. I don’t know.
“But I do know, if we didn’t have that pitching performance … we’d be done for the year.”
Howard, a hard-throwing right-hander with a 7-2 record and 2.12 ERA, will take the mound against Oak Hill, giving Templeton another reliable arm to rally behind.
Walsh said the Eagles’ bats need to return the favor.
“It gives us a lot of confidence, but we need to come out with more fire with our bats,” he said. “We need to take more pitches, and do anything that we can to get these guys more confidence for them to throw.
“Because when they’re on their ‘A’ game, no one can stop us.”