Clarke baseball routs Handley, 11-1
BERRYVILLE — Kevin Ryan had to like the opportunities presented to him on Saturday.
For one, he was going to get a chance to pitch on a beautiful afternoon at Singhas Field. Secondly, he was going to face a winless team.
But the most important thing for Ryan, a junior right-hander for the Clarke County baseball team, was the thought process that he needed to just go out and throw strikes and let his defense take care of the rest.
And Ryan did just that, limiting Handley to two hits and an earned run over five innings in an 11-1 win by the Eagles in a game that was shortened to five innings because of the run rule.
“The defense held up very well — didn’t make any errors — and everybody made great throws and backed me up,” said Ryan, who induced nine ground-ball outs in moving to 2-0. “I just tried to get some ground balls and let the defense do their job.”
The Eagles (4-2) enjoyed a pair of five-run innings against two Handley pitchers to earn their fourth straight win. Clarke County used the short game (three bunts that went for hits without a play), spreading the hitting around (eight starters hit safely), and driving in runs without putting the bat on the ball (three bases-loaded walks).
All in all, Clarke County coach Jon Novick will take a win when his team has double-digit totals in runs and hits (13) and can get a distance-going performance from its starting pitcher.
“I was very happy with what we did here today,” Novick said. “The biggest thing for us is to play real good defense. Kevin’s more of a [pitch to] contact pitcher there. He threw 48 pitches and got through five innings, so you can’t complain about that.
“He was just working location and threw about 95 percent fastballs. The fact that we had no errors behind him and then with the way we mashed the ball ... I’m very happy with the progress we’ve been having.”
Handley starter Cole Talton retired the Eagles in order in the first, but the junior ran into trouble right away in the second inning.
A double to the gap in left-center by Connor Liggett was followed by another two-base hit by Alex Dobry to put two runners in scoring position with no outs. A comebacker to Talton hit by Michael Fields held the runners before a single by freshman catcher Caleb Peacher by Handley shortstop Nick Dempsey got the Eagles on the board. A groundout to short by Ryan again was able to hold a runner at third, but Clarke County was able to come up clutch from there by scoring four runs with two outs.
Nine-hole hitter Kasey Lake (2 for 3, two runs scored) singled to left for an RBI before back-to-back walks forced in another run. Senior left-fielder Jarrett Sowder (2 for 4, three RBIs) then came up with the first of his two big hits on the day by grounding a two-run single through the left side for a 5-0 lead.
An infield single by Liggett re-loaded the bases before Talton got Dobry, Clarke County’s 11th batter of the inning, to fly to right to end the second.
The Eagles would record a five-run frame in the fifth to end things early, and Sowder said he and his teammates have grown more comfortable at the plate in recent games to help get the offense in gear.
“It feels good to come out here and we’re actually starting to hit well,” Sowder said. “At the beginning of the year we weren’t doing so well and hitting it right to people. We’re really starting to find the gaps, and Kevin Ryan pitching [well] today really helped us out a lot.
“I think that’s what our pitchers need to work on is throwing [to] contact and not trying to blow by people. I think our defense is really going to help out [by making plays] with that.”
Ryan had a no-hitter after three innings and had allowed just one baserunner when Handley (0-5) did its lone damage in the fourth.
Senior outfielder Blaine Homan led off with a clean single to left and scored on a two-out single the opposite way by senior catcher Andrew Lins. Ryan, who struck out just two (he allowed just three baserunners, including hitting Lins in the second) in his distance-going performance, got Dempsey to ground out to second to end the fourth and followed that with a perfect fifth.
The Eagles plated an unearned run in the fourth to go ahead 6-1, with sophomore leadoff batter Jordon Turner coming around on a wild pickoff attempt by Handley reliever Clifton Ambers (2 2/3 innings, six runs allowed, four walks).
It was in the fourth that Clarke County saw an opportunity to work on its short game. The left-handed hitting Turner dropped a bunt down the third-base side that went without a play. Travis Elsea (2 for 3, RBI) followed, dropping his bunt down the first-base side resulting in another hit without a play. Turner would score his unearned run with two outs after Ambers tried to pick Sowder (who reached on a fielder’s choice) off first.
The Eagles sent 10 batters to the plate and made it a short day (the game took only an hour and 27 minutes to play) in the fifth for another five-spot to end the game by run-rule.
An infield error led to four of the five runs being unearned, and the Eagles thrived well with a sacrifice fly by Turner (1 for 2, two runs scored), Elsea’s second bunt single, an RBI single by Sowder, a pair of bases-loaded walks, and a two-out blooper into shallow left by Peacher (2 for 3, two RBIs) just out of the reach of Dempsey to drive in Sowder with the 11th Clarke County run of the game to finish the game.
The early season has been a struggle for the Judges, who have given up 77 runs in five games. Pitching and defense will take a while to develop, and first-year coach Patrick Wingfield is trying to stay positive.
“We’ve been getting better,” Wingfield said. “The scoreboard is not always the best tell-all of how you’re getting better, but we’re getting better each game. Today I thought we played much better defensively [just two errors] than we have the past few games.”