By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPHENS CITY -- To the casual fan watching Zach Carney pitch Friday night, it would be hard to believe that the Sherando left-hander was still searching for his first win.
But there Carney was, working quickly, batter after batter, and throwing a masterful game against Northwestern District rival James Wood.
"I wanted to keep it in a zone," Carney said. "You know, I didn't want to fall behind [in the count]."
So good was Carney, that he really didn't need an "out" pitch, as baseball coaches tend to say about such a solid performance. No, this start by Carney was so dominant that he had several "out" pitches at his disposal.
Mowing right through the Colonels most of the way, Carney pitched a three-hit shutout, walked one and struck out 12 in leading Sherando to a 3-0 win.
"Zach was in a zone tonight," Sherando coach Pepper Martin said. "He had great command of the strike zone. He worked fast, he got in a rhythm, he changed speeds, he changed location.
"A lot of times, a pitcher can have success when they can throw all three pitches for strikes. Tonight he could throw all three pitches for strikes where he wanted to, in relationship to the plate. I mean, he never left the ball right down the middle. He was always on the inner-third [of the plate], the outer-third. He got ahead of hitters and made them hit what he wanted them to hit."
A sign that this might be a pretty good night for Carney surfaced early. Carney blew past leadoff batter Drew Burnett, fanning the left-handed hitter within three pitches. Brock Lockhart followed with a soft liner back to Carney, and Matt Copley was retired on his grounder to third.
The first eight pitches delivered by Carney (1-0) went for strikes, and he threw one ball in his 10 first-inning pitches.
"It was the first district start for me, so I knew I had to come out strong," Carney said. "You know, you never take anything for granted. The last time I [started], I had a good couple innings, then had four walks in the fourth [inning, last week in a no-decision at Martinsburg, W.Va.]. I just had to keep focusing, inning by inning and pitch by pitch."
In the first three innings, Carney was perfect. He retired nine straight to begin the game, which included five strikeouts. Of his 32 pitches over the first three innings, 25 were strikes.
Carney had command of any pitch he wanted to deliver. His fastball was on. His curveball was locating well, giving the Colonels (1-6, 0-1) fits at every turn. The change-up? Downright ridiculous and virtually unhittable.
"It was colder, so my hand was a little bit looser," said Carney, who threw 65 of 92 pitches for strikes. "It was easier for me to grip the change-up. That was a big thing for me tonight. That's the best I've had command of it, by far."
James Wood finally made headway in the fourth ... sort of.
Drew Burnett worked his way on with a five-pitch walk leading off to become the Colonels' first baserunner. Lockhart then ended the no-hit bid with a sharp single through the left side, putting two on with no outs. When Copley moved the runners with his bunt, the Colonels had two runners in scoring position and just one out.
However, Carney struck out Cody Vorous on a 0-2 change-up and got Tyler Dick to tap out to first to end the threat.
After striking out the side in order in the fifth, Carney allowed just an infield single to Alan Gleske in the sixth and Daniel Garber's pinch-hit single in the seventh.
"I think he worked outside on us a lot and we just didn't stay back," James Wood coach Jared Mounts said. "We didn't make adjustments, but give [Carney] credit. He was effective and he kept us off-balance."
Sherando (7-1, 1-0) had to earn whatever it got from James Wood starter Matt Copley, who held the Warriors to minimal damage by recording big outs after getting in trouble.
The Warriors pushed across a run in the bottom of the first. Brogan Hoover singled leading off, went to second on a sacrifice, to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a two-out passed ball.
Copley, who made 59 pitches in his first three innings, held Sherando to one run by stranding a runner at third in each of the first three innings.
Sherando would not be able to expand its lead until the fifth against Copley (1-3).
The Warriors finally broke through with single runs in the fifth and sixth. As is tradition with many of Martin's teams, manufacturing their way around the bases worked best for the Warriors.
"They got the one [run] early and put another one on [the scoreboard], but you're still thinking 'One or two [runs], we can make up,'" Mounts said. "But they put the last [run] up in the end and it's sort of like a dagger of sorts."
Also pitching a complete game in defeat, Copley allowed just four hits, walked two, allowed two earned runs and struck out seven.
"This was a classic high school pitcher's duel," Martin said. "Matt Copley pitched well enough to win. Early on he struggled, then he got in a rhythm. Matt's such a competitor. He was leaving his fastball up and having a little trouble with his breaking ball, but he battled through it and he gave [James Wood] a quality start as well."
A late addition to the lineup when Dominique Porter sprained his ankle, No. 9 batter Brandon Fletcher got on base for the second straight time when he led off the fifth with a slow roller down the third-base side, which he beat out for a hit. Hoover moved Fletcher up with a sacrifice before Jacob Carney singled through the left side to drive Fletcher in. The left-handed hitting Carney saw an opening when James Wood shortstop Cody Franks had shaded more toward second with Fletcher on the bag during the at-bat.
Sherando went up 3-0 in the sixth when Zach Carney was hit by a pitch with one out. Carter Simmers, who was sent in to run, then moved to third when Erik Albers grounded a single by Lockhart at third.
An RBI groundout by Chris Gray followed, and Zach Carney went back to work in hopes of closing down his bid for a shutout.
After Garber reached on his one-out single in the seventh, Carney came back to record his last two strikeouts. Mitchell Prelip went down for the second time and Carney finished his masterpiece by fanning pinch-hitter Scott Johnson on a 3-2 pitch.
"James Wood's always going to be there, no matter what," Carney said. "It's a good win for us."