By Alexander Haynes
The Bobcats baseball team had the duty of continuing to climb the Sun Belt mountain this weekend. Playing the Appalachian State Mountaineers was about the endurance and finding identity at the play; getting the job that needed to be done, done. And in that sense, the Bobcats not only swept the Mountaineers, but came away winning in season long implications. The batting lineup was successful in avoiding chasing distracting pitches, while the pitching staff itself is studying opponents closer than ever. As the Bobcats are climbing on the way to a 13-4-1 record, they are becoming situationally aware.
Chasing Pitchers Away
In the series, one of the priorities for the Bobcats batting lineup was to chase pitchers away from their starting supposition early. On Friday, they accomplished that task in the fourth, when the Mountaineers starter Andrew Vaccacio was sent packing after Derek Scheible shot a home run to deep left field, bringing the score 6-1. That brevity in goal accomplishment headlined Friday as the Bobcats finally achieved the lofty task of putting the opponent on notice early.
The flow of the game, however, was set by Nicholas Fraze’s pitching in the first inning after recovering from a walk and double. In the young season, the Mountaineers begin to bounce after they achieve a string of hits. Fraze’s consistency prevented the string from turning into runs, as he pitched into the proverbially ground outs, frustrating opposing batters.
The first inning for the Bobcats’ batting was disappointing, leaving two batters on the path. At the same time, the micro results were positive as each batter was attempting to toward their individually resounding style – Scheible going for power, Jaylen Hubbard the single. The methodology was key to opening the door for runs in the second; John Wuthrich took the opening walk, Jared Huber singled and Jonathan Ortega sent them home with the first RBI of the game.
Luke Sherley hitting a home run one inning later off a 1-2 count was the blight on the Mountaineers the Bobcats needed to steal the urgency level. And afore mentioned, the fourth inning was the fruit of the established urgency.
On a macro level, Sherley, Ortega, and Scheible saw three, two, and three hits respectively. Only three strike outs (Ortega, Scheible – an acceptable result for their plate orientation– and Ryan Newman) to seven walks was emblematic of the comfort they were operating. This game was a slight glance into a window of a Bobcats team well studied and rested.
Fraze’s six-inning, 86-pitch performance cannot be understated. His efficiency is why the Bobcats can function so comfortably. He forced seven batters out in three or less pitches. After allowing a homerun in on the first pitch in the third, and then a single after two balls, the next three batters struck out swinging. Fraze knew exactly what pitches to throw, confusing the Mountaineers lineup for the better part of his six innings and securing the 8-2 victory.
Walking the Baselines
The perfect situation would have been Ortega, Scheible, et al arriving in the first inning and winning comfortably. Ultimately, that is not baseball – baseball is nine innings of programming every pitch, fighting for the elusive win in a single, perfectly hittable pitch.
The first five innings were a battle of pitcher attrition with neither team achieving much offensive success. Connor Reich battling Colin Schmid was a battle of pitchers holding down their opponents with stark confidence. Even Schmid’s seven walks did not turn runs (only one walk occurred in their scoring inning), although, subsequent walks ended his day in the seventh.
The opening innings painted the winner would be granted the term resilient. Reich prevented the Mountaineers from stealing that adjective. In seven innings, he threw only 98 pitches, facing 25 batters and allowing only one walk. Four hits turned only one score as he stuck to the method of chasing batters down with varying pitch types; in some terms, a studied performance.
Schmid was juxtaposed to Reich by lasting one inning less and filing only 99 pitches. One of the questions regarding Schmid was how the Bobcats would analyze and break a pitcher who does not allow a breadth of opportunity. The answer was seven walks. And while those walks, as mentioned, did not lead to scoring, the other factorial at hand was long at-bats, allowing other batters to study Reich procedurally.
The study was finally provoking of the fifth inning – After Wuthrich and Newman took Schmid six and five pitches to be put out, Huber singled. Mickey Scott hit a single far enough to right, allowing Huber’s speed to move to third. Scheible contacted a bad lead-off pitch, and should have been out, less an in-field error created an RBI situation. Huber jovially jaunted home, and Scott shortly followed in part to the error.
The eighth inning was equivocal of why taking advantage of errors is essential to winning – Cam Baird came into pitch, and while cleaning up most batters, one wild pitch was the sole hint the Mountaineers needed. Alex Leshock slowly and hauntingly crept around the bases afterwards until Drew Beck’s RBI tied the game 2-2.
Baird put the finishing touch on the ninth, creating a situation for the lineup to carry out their goal one last time. After Huber singled, freshman Dalton Shuffield took the bases as a pitch runner. A confusing turn of events saw Ortega and Scheible walk with one-out, loading the bases. And to complete the game in an even more trivia sense for the leverage of the situation, Hubbard subsequently walked, allowing Shuffield to shuffle home for the walk-off walk. The Mountaineers pitching staff may have been dancing around the strike zone, but a win is a win.
Homeruns for the Win
Homeruns do not come every game and should not be expected. However, when the homerun pitch is coming fast and often, finishing scoring plays quickly is an appropriate response. The Bobcats did so with Scheible, Sherley and Wuthrich slamming three shots in the first three innings to take the 7-2 victory. The team only struck out twice, three more batters walked, and six 11 batters used saw a hit.
Three hits into the game, the Bobcats were up 2-0. Ortega lead off with a single down right field with Schieble shortly thereafter sending him home on the second pitch in his at-bat. A string of plays between Hubbard stealing, an error allowing Wuthrich to first without a hit, and Hubbard scrambling home on the same error, was the finishing note on the 3-0 first inning.
The first inning was successful in establishing the tone of the game. In his second at bat, Ortega singled, followed by Schieble walking on four straight balls. This time, Sherley sent a nine-pitch at-bat the distance, making the score 6-0.
Wuthrich’s quiet single-run, homerun was a quaint note on the Bobacats’ scoring. While they would not net another run, the overt theme was success found when provided.
Pitcher Zachary Leigh got the starting nod and a go ahead to last 7.2 innings and 107 pitches. Via eight strikeouts, he appeared fierce and ready to own the game. Just as the Bobcats’ batting lineup knew the pitches they had to locate, Leigh knew the pitches he had to throw. His pitching performance is a positive on the season – if the team is opportunistic of every pitch advantage, that focus will deliver wins in the games they should win.
Featured image by Nicole Wolf.