WHEELING - As Wheeling Jesuit's leadoff hitter, Tony Connacher understands the importance of getting guys on base early, and often.
He and his Cardinals temmates did that in bunches Saturday at the I-470 complex.
Wheeling Jesuit had its first two batters of the first, second and third innings reach base and five of them scored in a 9-1 victoty against Fairmont in the first game of a Mountain East Conference doubleheader.
Photo by Tony Viola
Wheeling Jesuit left-hander Justin Fritts struck out nine in a complete-game victory Saturday.
"It's really big," Connacher said. "When our pitchers can pitch with the lead they can worry about just throwing strikes and not worry about having to strike everyone out. It also puts pressure on (the opponents') defense. If you can get them in a situation where they have to force things, play from behind, it can extend an inning."
Jesuit struck first and struck often.
Connacher led off the game with an infield hit that wasn't fielded cleanly by Fairmont's third baseman. Joe San Felippo followed with a single. Connacher scored on a groundout by Mike Adams and San Felippe followed him home on a passed ball moments later.
In the second, when Jesuit scored three times, Tyler Kowalcyzk and Mitch Ludewig led off with singles. While Kowalcyzk didn't score, Ludewig did, on a single by Patrick Biega, and he and Chad Burge, who reached on a fielder's choice, scored on a sacrifice fly and a walk, with the bases loaded.
In the third Kowalcyzk reached on an error and Ludewig singled. Both scored as did Burge, who followed with a walk in a four-run inning that made it 9-0.
That was more than enough for Justin Fritts, who fired a complete-game four-hitter. He struck out nine, walked two and hit a batter.
"He threw a lot of strikes, and they got their leadoff hitter on in the first three innings," Fairmont coach George Yanchak, a Brooke High alum, said. "We didn't do that. When you do that against a good team they are going to make you pay for your mistakes and they certainly did that."
Pitching hasn't been a problem for the Cardinals (15-23 overall, 15-14 in the MEC) this season.
"Our pitching has been real solid, top to bottom," Jesuit coach Terry Edwards said. "We haven't been consistent in the other two areas, that being we haven't been able to score a lot of runs and we have struggled in the field. I told the guys when we get eight hits and score four runs, we are going to be hard to beat."
The Cardinals had nine hits in the opener and the flood gates opened.
Meanwhile, Fritts (2-3) was sharp. The sophomore, also a standout on the men's basketball team, moved into the starting rotation after being used primarily in relief last year.
"He worked hard in the offseason to build up his arm, but he is still on a rigid pitch count," Edwards said. "The complete game worked out in his favor. The pitch count wasn't a problem. They never really threatened (because of the lead and Fritts' ability to pitch out of the few problems he had) and that wasn't a problem. He did a good job."
Fritts had a few nice plays behind him, and turned one himself.
In the fifth, Kowalcyzk made a slidding catch in center field and came up throwing, gunning down Matt Emerick, who tried to tag and score from third.
In the seventh, Fritts snared a sharp ground ball, headed right for his face, and calmly started a game-ending double play.
Fairmont State came back to win the nightcap, 4-3.
Nick Mayle earned a victory for Fairmont (12-24, 11-19), pitching two innings of one-hit releif and he was the benefactor of two Fairmont State runs in the top of the sixth that erased a 3-2 Cardinals lead.
Patrick Ammar drove in all three Wheeling Jesuit runs with a bases-clearing double in the fifth.
Garrett Sancomb took the loss in relief of starter Ethan Weiss.