GIFFORD -- Adam Carver proved that the voters for the Eastern Illinois Baseball League's Virgil Scheiwe Most Outstanding Pitcher Award were right for selecting him for the award.
Carver faced Andrew Zenner, the other nominee for the award, and helped the Royal Giants win 7-0 in the EI League Tournament semifinals over the Buckley Dutchmasters by allowing no runs on only two hits and five walks with nine strikeouts through eight innings.
"I know Buckley's a tough foe every time they come out, so I knew I had to be at the top of my game. Early on, I was able to find the strike zone quite a bit, so I was able to minimize pitches. In those later innings, they got some guys on, but I was able to work out of some tough jams," Carver said.
"My defense helped me out a lot today. I put more balls in play than they're used to when I pitch. They definitely backed me up, so that's much appreciated."
It is the third time in four years that Carver received the EI League's pitching award. He won the award in 2015 and 2016 as a member of the Paxton Swedes.
Carver will get a chance to face his old team in the EI League Tournament championship series. The first game will be played at 2 p.m. next Saturday in Paxton, with the second game scheduled for 1 p.m. the following Sunday in Gifford and game three -- if necessary -- to follow immediately afterwards.
"I still keep in touch with those guys," Carver said. "There are really no hard feelings. They're playing well right now. They've got some good, young talent, and we'll have to be at the top of our game to knock those guys off. I'm looking forward to playing them."
For the Buckley Dutchmasters, the 2018 season -- and their three-year reign as tournament champions -- came to end with the loss.
"I'm just sad it's over. That's the toughest part -- that I don't get to hang out on Sundays with all these guys and all these fans and be a part of EI League baseball," Dutchmasters manager Trent Eshleman said.
"We ran into a good team. That's a team of veterans, and they play hard and pitch well. It was a great day. It was a great EI League atmosphere, a good crowd. If the rest of the state knew what they were missing by not coming out today, this is the best baseball you can get for $5."
In the bottom of the third inning, Cody Flowers led off with a single to left field and Blake Hoveln drew a one-out walk before Thomas Wolken sent Flowers home for the go-ahead run with a two-out base hit to left field.
The Giants took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning as Jake Cribbett reached base on an error and Nick Meredith singled to center field before Carver hit a two-out single to right field to send Meredith across home plate.
Roberto Gonzalez walked to lead off the bottom of the fifth inning before stealing second abse and advancing to third on an error. He crossed home plate on a sacrifice fly ball hit to left field by Nick Bates.
After the fifth inning, Zenner was relieved on the mound by Jimmy Brandt. Zenner finished his outing with four strikeouts and three walks while yielding three runs -- one earned -- on six hits.
"Zenner's had a great summer. I know he and I were battling it out for the pitcher of the year (award). Frankly, I think he pitched his way to deserve it, and I wouldn't have been upset whatsoever if he got the award over me," Carver said. "He's a good, young pitcher."
Royal (14-8) extended its lead to 5-0 in the seventh inning.
Gonzalez singled to right field, Wolken was hit by a pitch and Bates hit an infield single to load the bases before Colton Carr singled to right field to send Wolken and Bates across home plate.
In the eighth inning, Carver hit a bunt single and Hoveln singled on an infield ground ball before Gonzalez doubled to right field to send Carver across home plate. Wolken sent Hoveln home with a sacrifice fly ball to center field.
With Carr relieving Carver in the top of the ninth inning, Buckley put two runners in scoring position as Evan Regez -- who finished the game hitting 2-for-4 -- doubled to left field and advanced to third base on a wild pitch and Jay Eshleman walked and stole second base.
Jake Stewart -- who doubled in the first inning -- flied out to center field to end the game with the baserunners stranded.
"We didn't get to Carver. He pitched well. They got some timely two-out hits, and once we got down, we just struggled. We'll be back. We're an organization. We're a family -- we're not just a baseball team. That's what we hang our hat on. We can no longer say we're young. We've got a year under our belt," Eshleman said.
"We got some championship-type flavor today and put ourselves in the heat. It just didn't work out for us today. We got beat by a good team that, I would say, is right now the best team in the league with what they have offensively, defensively and pitching. They deserve to win today. It's just the way it goes."