It took Dale baseball coach Jerry Sanford five pitches to make a visit to the mound Thursday morning.
After electing to not use Ole Miss commit Evan Anderson on the mound, Sanford found himself delivering a firm message to left-hander Dalton Tillison, who had yet to throw a strike in five pitches against Alva.
“He said if I don't start throwing strikes, then I am going to be on the bench,” Tillison said. “And I took that seriously and ended up coming back and throwing like I should have been.”
Tillison retired eight straight after his opening two-batter hiccup, and Dale pieced together just enough runs to beat the Goldbugs 7-2 in the Class 2A quarterfinals at Palmer Field in Dolese Park.
The top-ranked Pirates (28-4) play Colbert at 11 a.m. Friday in Shawnee.
No. 12 Alva (24-12) was making its first state tournament appearance since 1976, while Dale is attempting to repeat as champion and win its 11th spring title.
Sanford, though, is holding firm with his poker face by refusing to name a starting pitcher for Friday, leaving it up in the air when Anderson will see the mound.
“That might be a little bit more of a secret because I don't want to give that out because then they'll know if it's a right-hander or left-hander,” Sanford said. “I don't know yet.
“We've got about six guys I'm comfortable throwing, but I don't know why I decided (to start Tillison). A lot of people thought I would throw the Anderson kid, but it's a crapshoot. He's ready to go.”
Tillison, though, made good on his coach's faith to name him the starter, allowing just five hits and the two first-inning runs over seven strong innings.
For the junior, it was a confidence booster when he found out following Wednesday's practice that he was getting the start.
“I've got a pitching job and that's what I do,” Tillison said “It's a lot of faith. They believe in me and I believe in the team behind me.”
However, Tillison had to believe in the Pirates' offense, which never really got going but took advantage of an erratic fourth inning by Alva starter Ty Hooper to score four runs and take a 5-2 lead.
Hooper, who threw six innings and allowed just six hits, walked three and hit one batter, and Alva committed two errors in the fourth as the game unraveled.
“We just came around that one inning and did what we needed to do,” Tillison said “Once you get ahead sometimes it's hard to come back from it. We did our job.”