LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Every time he slides the chest protector over his green Lakewood Ranch jersey and fastens up his shinguards, Matt Roberts knows what's expected of him.
Catching is all about defense. Some offense would be nice, sure. But every time he squats behind home plate, Roberts' role is to prevent runs from scoring more so than driving some in.
He did his job Tuesday, throwing out two runners trying to steal and picking off another in helping the Mustangs (5-3, 1-3) preserve a 2-0 win over visiting Palmetto in a Class 7A-District 10 baseball game.
"Defensive catching has been my strongest thing since I was young. I've always made that my focus," said Roberts, a junior. "I know hitting, obviously, is important. But I think defense wins championships, and it's the most important thing to me."
Defense was especially crucial Tuesday, when each team struggled to score runs and combined for no extra-base hits. And Roberts made his presence felt early when he picked off Hunter Finner leading off first in the second.
Two innings later, Blas Rodriguez, Palmetto's starter, worked an eight-pitch walk. Roberts nullified that, however, when he threw out Simon Williams, Rodriguez's courtesy runner, trying to steal second.
And after the Mustangs scored twice in the bottom of the fourth, Roberts snuffed out another Tigers rally in the fifth. This time it happened at third base, which Jake Merch which was trying to swipe with one out.
"Palmetto does a great job as far as making things happen -- hit and run, stealing, bunting 'em over," said Mustangs coach Ryan Kennedy,
"and Matty did a great job, being on his toes and taking advantage of situations like that. He was on the money all night."
The Mustangs (5-3, 1-3) snapped a scoreless tie in the fourth when Logan Clark led off with a single and went to second when Roberts' attempt at a sacrifice bunt turned into a base hit.
Justin Greenaway bunted both runners over, and, after Colton Chupp popped out, Shane Zipperer blooped a two-out, two-run single down the right-field line.
It was the sort of big hit that eluded Palmetto (4-4, 1-3) all night. The Tigers stranded six runners on base and left the bases loaded in the third.
"It was frustrating, because we did get men in scoring position and the hitters just didn't come through," Palmetto coach Phil Olson said. "It was a great game. We just made a couple of mistakes, and their pitcher threw great with men in scoring position and got out of those jams."
Scott Stout went the first four innings for the Mustangs, earning the win before Andrew Giddens and Joseph Ambrosino teamed for three innings of one-hit relief.
Rodriguez threw well for the Tigers, allowing two runs on seven hits and throwing 41 of 55 pitches for strikes.
But the most valuable arm of the night belonged to Roberts.
"This is huge. We needed this," Roberts said. "We just have to keep it going now."