By Greg Brill - email@example.com
BERRYVILLE -- Ethan Emmart was facing hitters for the first time on Wednesday.
Without any scrimmages or even so much as facing his own Clarke County teammates in practice, Emmart's preseason pitching work consisted of throwing a few bullpen sessions.
"Just a straight bullpen, nothing [else]," Emmart said.
Even with these supposed drawbacks, Emmart showed little rust as he allowed just one run in his five innings plus and combined with Drew Paice on a two-hitter as Clarke County beat Stonewall Jackson 3-1 in the baseball opener for both teams.
"I just did my thing," said Emmart, who allowed one hit, one unearned run and struck out six during his stint. "I started out well, and I just got a little tired at the end. My stamina's not up yet since it's the beginning of the season."
Stonewall Jackson got a quality start from Ryan Henschel as well. Henschel matched Emmart pitch-for-pitch most of the way, giving up a solo home run to Vernon Mathews in the second and two runs in the fifth, his final inning. Sergio Martinez threw a scoreless sixth for the Generals (0-1).
"I think Ryan [Henschel] pitched great," Stonewall Jackson first-year coach Morgan Saeler said. "He made one mistake all night. It's like I tell our pitchers, 'If we lose 1-0 or 3-1, that's the offense's fault.' I thought he pitched a great game."
Clarke County lost few players from the team that finished strong by winning five of its last six regular-season games in 2009. Many of the innings pitched from that squad came from the arms of Emmart, Paice and Jesse Smoot. The trio are all sophomores now and Eagles coach Jon Novick expects to see progress from his pitching staff.
"I'm really happy with the way [Emmart and Paice] threw out there," Novick said. "Drew's always good to come in and close stuff down. He did it last year, too, and he gets the unsung hero [tag] because he never really gets any [credit] for it.
"Every pitcher I have is an experienced pitcher, where last year everyone was an inexperienced pitcher."
The first four innings went quickly enough, with Emmart keeping Stonewall Jackson hitless and Mathews, one of the few seniors in Clarke County's lineup and its No. 4 batter, providing early pop from his bat.
Leading off the second, Mathews drove a 1-0 pitch from Henschel far over the trees beyond left field for a 1-0 lead. It was Mathews' first high school home run.
"[Henschel] did a good job all day keeping the ball low," Mathews said. "He just made that one mistake [pitch] and I was able to get the hit."
Emmart had trouble in only one of his first four innings. A 25-pitch second made Emmart work a little harder before he came back to get a pair of strikeouts and a sharp ground out to end the inning.
"I worked a lot on my splitter over the summer, which I didn't have in my freshman season," Emmart said. "It just comes in like a fastball and drops off the table. I think I've got it mastered now."
Emmart had retired 13 of 15 when Anthony Peacher reached on an error with one out in the fifth. Peacher stole second, then Emmart lost his no-hit bid and shutout with one pitch as No. 8 batter Jacob Mace lifted an RBI double to deep right-center to tie the game.
Mace moved to third on an infield ground out, but was tagged easily at the plate when Matt Litten could not get down an attempted suicide squeeze bunt.
In the bottom of the fifth, Clarke County (1-0) got just what it needed from the bottom of its lineup. Mark Unger, batting sixth, singled to right on an 0-2 pitch and moved to second on Stanley Paice's first-pitch single to left. Each runner moved up on a wild pitch before Unger scored the go-ahead run on John Owens' ground out to short, and Stanley Paice came across on Grant Payne-Moss' sacrifice fly to left to make it 3-1.
"The bottom of my order really came through," Novick said. "It's early in the year, so the bottom of the order is not necessarily the bottom of the order. It's my best guess from what I've seen so far [in practices]."
Holding a two-run lead, Emmart (71 pitches) was lifted after falling behind 2-0 in the count to Litten leading off the sixth.
"He's been working hard for us and it showed today," Mathews said. "He [pitched] into the sixth inning today, and anytime we can get that it is good."
Drew Paice came on and retired Litten on a ground out before giving up a walk to Josh Montalbano. After a steal of second, Montalbano was in scoring position, but Drew Paice got out of the jam and got the save by pitching a scoreless seventh.
"It was a tough loss," Saeler said. "I mean, our kids played hard. Our defense [one error] played great behind our pitchers. It's a tough one to take, but we learn and move on."