Eagle's Landing had not looked like itself in its past two games, and neither had its ace pitcher, junior Sam Bell. Two lopsided region losses, one brief, ineffective outing by Bell, and suddenly a bit of concern crept in on a season still young and for the taking.
So to see Bell cruise through host Woodland's lineup, to see the bats explode for a six-run fifth inning, to see the Golden Eagles jovial and rejuvenated in the dugout after a 9-0 win over the Wolfpack in a Region 4-AAA game Wednesday was a welcome sight.
Eagle's Landing (5-5, 3-2) got back to .500 for the first time since February 26 and moved to within one game of Woodland (7-6, 4-2) for second place in the region.
"This was a turn-around game for us," Eagle's Landing coach Toby Evans said. "Even though it's early in the region, we've had a couple of rough games. This was huge for us.
"Woodland's sitting atop the region. For us to come out and make a statement like this, it proves to not only us but maybe other people that we can play the game and we're contenders."
Recently, Eagle's Landing didn't play like contenders. In losses to Woodward Academy last Friday and Mary Persons on Monday, the Golden Eagles surrendered 24 runs combined.
More disconcerning was Bell's outing against Woodward Academy. The junior lasted just two innings, fell behind batters and didn't dominate in the same fashion he did last season when he was a sub-2.00 ERA pitcher.
On Wednesday, that changed. Bell started off with a swift 1-2-3 inning in the first. Woodland catcher Charlie Stubbs led off the bottom of the second with a sharp line drive to rightfield, but the Wolfpack didn't get another hit until the bottom of the seventh.
Bell retired eight straight batters at one point. He struck out the side in the fifth. He walked just one. He threw just five pitches in the third. Woodland advanced runners into scoring position just twice.
In Bell's complete game effort, in which he allowed just two hits, no runs and struck out seven, he returned to the form Eagle's Landing has grown accustomed to.
"I felt pretty good, relaxed," Bell said. "Ready to go. Ready to win. This game was all about throwing strikes and getting ahead of batters, and that's what I did."
Said Evans: "For him to bounce back and come through tonight and pitch the way he did, it just shows a lot about the kid. He came back and fought hard."
Offensively, Eagle's Landing produced in a way it hadn't for two games. In the decisive sixth-inning, all nine batters came to the plate, pounding out five hits, the big blow coming from Jordan Kosky, who hit a two-run double to center.
The way the inning began was all too familiar for Woodland. Golden Eagles first baseman Andy Pollemus reached on an infield error, the fourth by the Wolfpack. Eagle's Landing's first four runs were all unearned.
"We didn't execute in any phase of the game," Woodland coach Michael Hardy said. "Give them all the credit. They came over here, and we'd been playing good baseball, and they came over here and beat us. They deserve all the credit."