Chapel Hill: Sports

April 4, 2014

Streaking Wildcats earn sixth win in seven games

Websters defines “vociferous” as “expressing oneself in a very loud or forceful way.”

Websters defines “vociferous” as “expressing oneself in a very loud or forceful way.”

It should have a tagline at the end reading “everything East Chapel Hill baseball isn’t.”

The Wildcats are 90 feet at a time, station-to-station baseball, with an occasional extra base hit thrown in. Their second pitcher is curveball first, changeup second, and three fastballs an inning ... maybe.

You may see the last names like Page, Garcia and Wood on the roster, but East baseball can hardly be compared to the bombast of Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead or the Rolling Stones. A Mellow 70s Gold album with be more apt.

Don’t laugh. “Staying Alive” like the Bees Gees has worked well so far.

Already with an early season victory over defending sectional champion Orange under their belts, the Wildcats (7-3) earned their sixth win in seven games by beating Panther Creek 7-3 Friday afternoon in the second game of the Hilltop Invitational Tournament at Wildcat Stadium.

Against the Catamounts, East had 10 hits, nine of them singles.

Winning pitcher John Blue (3-1) came within one out of a complete game. He finished with 3 strikeouts and no walks.

“We’re not a power baseball team,” said Widcat Coach Phil Woodell, now in his 17th year at East. “We do have some guys who are starting to swing the bat well, and we took advantage of some opportunities today.”

East opened up a 6-0 lead thanks to a 4-run second inning, which started off a single from catcher Josh Baldwin.

From there, seven consecutive Wildcats reached base, all from singles or walks. Center fielder Walker Hayter drove in courtesy runner Austin Shank and Grant Neal off a line drive that went off PCHS pitcher Jake Wilson and dribbled into left field. Zach Lahey, who reached on a walk, scored on a wild pitch. Hayter completed the inning scoring off a groundout by Bennett Byerley to give East a 4-0 lead.

Baldwin, Hayter and Connor Stough all finished with two hits. Every Wildcat reached base, and all but one had a hit.

Complementing the ‘Cats consistent offense, Blue kept the Catamounts off balance throughout the day with an assortment of off-speed pitches that left the Catamounts with plenty of hits, but also plenty of popups.

“He threw 100 pitches, which is more than I like,” said Woodell. “He wanted the complete game, and asked me to leave him in. I started to take him out earlier. He throws strikes, he didn’t walk anybody today. In high school, high school hitters will get themselves out if you throw strikes.”

East’s paucity of offensive punch can’t be blamed on Phil Woodell, but on Punxsuatawney Phil. Snow, rain and school cancellations made it impossible for Woodell even to schedule a practice in February. Two weeks into the season, East had played four games and held three practices on its own field.

“February and March were just a bear,” said Woodell. “We practiced in the gym and did a lot of bullpen and batting cage work. But we couldn’t get on the field. It’s starting to turn around now.”

With a top-heavy offense, Panther Creek (6-5-1) suffered its second loss in two days in the Hilltop Tournament. The first four batters in the Catamount order combined for nine hits. The rest of the lineup had two. Designated hitter Jordan Hockaday and third baseman and Trevor Howard each finished 3-for-4.

“We didn’t get the big hit when we needed it,” said Catamount coach Dan Hall, whose team registered just four hits in their tournament-opening loss to West Forsyth. “We’re usually a line drive hitting team, and today we were a pop-up team. We didn’t adjust well to Blue, and he did a great job.”

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