As the old saying goes, defense wins championships.
And in baseball, the pitcher is part of the defense.
Northlake Christian has received excellent pitching from its entire staff this season, so perhaps it’s no surprise the Wolverines have positioned themselves to clinch a share of the District 10-2A championship. But with a rotation of a half-dozen capable hurlers, Northlake Christian (17-6, 6-3) is looking to excel in the postseason as well.
Leading the way are starters Sean Tweety, Logan Stevens and Justin Ethridge. Each has an ERA near 2.00, and all have shown the ability to work deep into the game. John Macaluso, Justin Estrada, and Taj Porter have pitched in relief and have been effective in shutting the door on opponents.
Northlake Christian coach Tim Rogers said it’s hard to say which of his starters has had the best season.
“It’s really flip a coin (to say who’s pitched better),” Rogers said. “They’re almost identical in ERA. … And they all go the distance when they pitch. They usually go about 90 pitches and get close to a complete game. They’re really good.”
The strong performances have come despite the staff’s relative youth. Tweety, a big left-hander, is a senior and has been a fixture on Wolverines’ teams for years. Stevens is a sophomore, though he has pitched since he was in the eighth grade. Ethridge, a freshman, pitched 25 varsity innings in his eighth grade year and impressed with an ERA less than 1.00.
Macaluso is a sophomore, and Estrada and Porter are seniors.
“We have four or five guys that can throw 80 (mph) or above,” Tweety said. “It definitely starts on the hill. Logan’s throwing a lot of strikes for us, and Justin is doing a tremendous job. They both go deep into games and they like to compete. So I’m not surprised (that we’ve done well). We trained all fall. This is right where I thought we would be.”
With nearly three full years of prep pitching experience, Stevens (who leads the team in wins) said he’s glad he had to “grow up early.”
“In this program, you see the game at a lot faster pace than you do in travel ball,” he said. “The game is a lot faster, and people are a lot better. You make sure you are at your best, or you are going to get rocked.”
Ethridge said having a solid defense behind him has made his job easier.
“It’s relaxing to know that they’re back there,” he said. “And it’s awesome to have guys count on me. I feel confident.”
Macaluso, a sophomore, also is gaining confidence on the mound after undergoing brain surgery two years ago to remove a tumor. He’s provided quality innings to the Wolverines, and has a win and save in district play.
“He fills up the strike zone,” Rogers said. “He doesn’t walk anyone. He gives you a chance.”
And after having the quarter-sized tumor removed, Macaluso said he’s glad to do so.
“I’m just happy to be out there,” he said.
Buddy Kyle, a junior, has been catcher to the talented Northlake Christian staff this season. He said having prolific pitchers on the mound hasn’t made the Wolverines complacent in the batters’ box. For his part, Kyle leads the team in batting average, home runs, and RBIs.
“They don’t allow many runs, but it makes us want to get more,” Kyle said. “It makes us want to put teams away.”
Stevens said he thinks the winning ways will continue, despite Northlake Christian’s 2-0 district loss to Pine on Saturday. Now, the Wolverines will have to wait and see what happens in this week’s three-game series between Hannan and Pope John Paul II.
Should Hannan (13-6, 4-2) lose one game to the Jaguars, it would share the District 10-2A title with Northlake. If the Hawks sweep, they would be the outright league champ. If PJP II (4-16, 2-4) wins two games or sweeps, then Northlake would win district.
“We have high expectations for our team,” Stevens said. “Nothing less.”