By Brian Eller - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Sean Goodson knew the Skyline hitters would struggle against his curveball. In his last appearance against the Hawks, Goodson tossed six solid innings and earned the win, thanks to a sharp curveball that left hitters off balance.
This time, however, Goodson knew the Hawks were expecting that pitch. So, like any good pitcher, Goodson adjusted, moving his fastball to the top of his pitching arsenal. The switch paid off for the right-hander, as Goodson allowed just one run through four innings of work and limited Skyline to three hits as Handley pounded the Hawks, 11-1, in five innings.
"The first time we faced them, I was on the mound and they had a tough time hitting the curveball," Goodson said. "I think today they knew I was going to throw it, so they were jumping on my fastball early in the count. I tried throwing the fastball and when they hit that I went with the curveball, too."
Goodson was effective early on, as he retired nine of the first 11 batters and seven straight at one point. Meanwhile, Skyline pitcher Ryan Settle ran into trouble in his outing, lasting just 3 2/3 innings in the loss and allowing the Judges' leadoff man to reach in every inning.
"You can't start every inning with a guy on first base," Skyline coach Nick Sborz said. "You just can't do it and we've been doing that all year. Once you get that leadoff guy on you do so many things, it's really to the hitter's advantage."
In the first inning, Handley's leadoff man did no damage as Settle was able to keep him stranded on second after a leadoff double. But after Nolan Potts opened up the second inning with a single, two more hits in the frame allowed Handley to take a 2-0 lead.
With a two-run cushion heading into the third, Goodson knew he had a little more room for error on the mound. His defense, however, didn't share that sentiment. Skyline second baseman Eli McEathron led off the inning by smacking a fly ball to shallow right field. It looked as if the ball was going to drop in for a base hit, but a racing Cory Crenshaw suddenly appeared from deep right and dove to make the spectacular catch.
"I said at the last baseball game we had, our outfield is as strong as you will see on any team in Double-A baseball in the state," Handley coach Eddie Simmons said. "Those three guys, [Crenshaw, Aubrey Wilkerson and Cody Strawderman] are some of the most athletic kids we have. They run everything down. Our pitchers know all they have to do is throw strikes, let [the batters] hit it out there and they'll find a way to catch it."
And while Handley's defense and pitching put on a display, Skyline's began to crumble.
Designated hitter Shawn Kelly led off the inning and reached after being hit in the shoulder. After advancing to third base following a single and steal, Cody Crenshaw walked to load the bases for the Judges with one out. Jacob Rudolph then hit a sharp ground ball to first baseman Ty Helmick.
Helmick wisely threw home to try and prevent the run, but as quickly as the ball smacked into catcher George Carter's glove, it fell on to the ground, allowing Kelly to score as part of a six-run third inning to put Handley ahead, 8-0.
"We really wanted to run on this team because the last couple of games have been pretty close, so we just came out and wanted to get it done early," said Handley's Ryan Hayes, who went 2-for-3 with three RBIs. "That's all we wanted to do. Just hit the ball, score and get it over with."
The Hawks got on the board in the fourth inning after Mike Litwin scored on a wild pitch from third base. The run was the only bright spot for the Hawks, however, who then allowed three more runs over the next two innings to end the game after five.
"We had just three hits," Sborz said. "You can't expect to win a ballgame with just three hits. We tell our guys to get a pitch that you can handle and I guess they felt like they could handle [the early ones]. We preach it all the time -- work the pitcher, work the count. I don't know ... it's tough. It's frustrating."