The second of back-to-back games that are played the afternoon after a night game can be more difficult that a doubleheader for a baseball team
Because at least players are already loose for the backend of a doubleheader. But when the turnaround is roughly 16 hours after a game the previous evening, it’s not abnormal to see sluggishness.
So that was the challenge St. Thomas More baseball coach Gary Perkins presented to the Cougars before Saturday’s noon first pitch against Berwick. STM handed Pitkin, the top-ranked team in Class B, their second loss of the season Friday evening and then had to refocus for a matchup with the Panthers, the defending champions in Class 3A.
“We just told the kids, ‘Look, you just got to grind this one out. You just got to find a way,’ ” Perkins said. “They responded.”
As it turned out, Saturday’s game wasn’t much of a grind for the Cougars (15-7). They jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning and never looked back for an 11-1 run-rule victory in five innings. After starting the season 8-7, STM has now won seven straight.
The Cougars weren’t necessarily explosive on offense, but they strung together quality at-bats, showed aggressiveness on the basepaths and took advantage of Berwick's defensive lapses, which included four errors. Seven of STM’s nine starters recorded hits, including a two-hit, two-RBI day by Patrick Marter. Connor Duffy also drove in two runs, and Luke Acosta homered for the second time in as many games.
Berwick’s starting pitcher Zeph Hoffpauir faced six hitters but didn’t record an out before being lifted.
“They had one of their better arms on the mound,” Perkins said. “So that kind of concerned me of what kind of grind we would have, but the kids showed up ready to play and did a good job. So my hat’s off to our players. They showed up today and played hard. We got some breaks, but then again, that’s part of the baseball game. So I’m happy.”
STM starting pitcher Connor Lyons didn’t need much help, however. In a pitch-count-shortened appearance, he struck out six and didn’t allow a hit on 59 pitches over three innings. David Christie pitched the final two innings and allowed just one run on two hits.
“Connor’s done a real good job for us this year,” Perkins said. “He’s a lefty and has nice a curveball. If he can stay ahead in the count and make them hit his pitch, he’s a pretty good arm. That’s what happened the first three innings. We had him on a pitch count, obviously. We’ve got two big games next week with Teurlings, so we’re trying to save all of our arms as much as possible.”
“He set the tone today, and of course, our team backed him. When we scored those four runs in the first inning, that let me know that we came to play.
Lyons and Christie have been a part of a pitcher-by-committee approach STM has taken thus far. Perkins has extended starters in recent games, but at least for the time being, he’ll continue to use 5-6 pitchers on a regular basis. That’s a change from how the Cougars operated at this point last year, when Mason Pesson and Drew McDaniel, the latter of which is now a senior, were relied upon heavily.
“Depth-wise, it’s probably as good as we’ve ever had, as far as guys that can toe it and give us some innings,” Perkins said. “But we don’t have that 1-2-3 punch, guys like Hogan Harris and Brennan Breaux. We’ve got some guys that are similar to those guys, but we don’t quite have that luxury. But, overall, this group has come a long way.”
Perkins said he isn’t necessarily looking to establish a clear rotation going into the playoffs. His goal for the pitching staff is much simpler.
“What we want to do is have the guys that go out there and our team believes in,” Perkins said. “Because that’s going to make your team a lot more presentable in the playoffs.”