KNOXVILLE — Over 600 fans and about 40 scouts flocked to Farragut High's field Saturday night to see a highly anticipated matchup between Farragut and Science Hill High of Johnson City, Tenn. Starting for Science Hill was Daniel Norris, the top prep lefthander in the 2011 draft class. Norris features top-shelf stuff, but this game would be a big test as Farragut features a competitive lineup, including catcher Nicky Delmonico, who entered the year as one of the Top 50 2011 draft prospects.
Before the game and his bullpen session, Norris was long tossing from pole to pole, airing his throws out over the heads of the Farragut players as they took infield/outfield. In his bullpen warm-up, Norris does a typical routine, but also simulates facing batters.
"After I go through a series of pitches and work on some other stuff I'll go in and face a lefty and righty, just to focus getting in and getting out," he said. "Long toss is something I started this year. Usually I go to center field and back to the line, but I've been trying to go pole to pole lately. It gets my arm loose and feels good."
Norris came out strong in his first inning of work, striking out the first two hitters. Delmonico was the third hitter and drew a walk before Norris got right fielder Scott Miller to pop out to the catcher. Norris' fastball ranged anywhere from 89-96 mph, but sat mostly 93-95, especially against Delmonico.
"We're real good buddies," Norris said. "You try not to let that get in the game, but we've been buddies for a long time. I wanted to strike him out real bad, but that didn't happen."
Norris' stuff was good, if inconsistent, over the six innings he worked. While his fastball did dip into the 86-89 range toward the end of his outing, his 105th pitch was 91 and he admitted he was dialing back some to work on spotting his pitches better. Norris worked with three other pitches on the night—curveball, slider and changeup—but used a fastball-curveball combination mostly. His curveball was typically 71-74 with 1-to-7 break. The changeup was 79-81 with fade and the slider was 76-79, but he choked the grip causing the pitches to break too far in on righthanders.
"I felt good," Norris added. "If you can't get amped up with this atmosphere there's something wrong. I had a lot of fun out there. I felt like I competed tonight and gave my team a chance to win. That was a team game and a good win against Farragut at their home park.
"My fastball felt good. Lately I've been sacrificing velocity for command. In the past I've had some trouble with walks and I really just focused on being able to go in and out when I needed to and I felt like I did that well tonight. The curveball felt good and the slider I was choking a little bit. It's a new pitch for me, but the past two games it's been really good for me. Changeup felt pretty good too."
In the sixth inning, with two outs, Norris hopped off the mound and seemed to have tweaked something in his leg. It turned out that he cramped up a little in his back leg, but he got the final out and was set to be removed anyway because of his pitch count. He allowed three earned runs on five hits and two walks while striking out nine in six innings of work.
"I really thought he was a bulldog," Science Hill head coach Ryan Edwards said. "He got after it really well tonight. He didn't really have the changeup or the slider, but he had a really good curveball and fastball. He did really well with both those pitches. I thought he did an awesome job to get that last out."
Norris also displayed his athleticism Saturday night as he showed easy power in batting practice—while wearing Converse Chuck Taylors. He also beat out a slow ground ball for an infield single and hopped off the mound to field a bunt and throw the runner out at first by a step.
Delmonico had a solid night, going 1-for-3 with a single, walk and run scored. Norris got Delmonico out once, inducing a flyout to left field in the sixth inning. Things got interesting in the bottom of the seventh with Farragut trailing 5-3. Science Hill righthander Andrew Sweeney got two quick outs, but second baseman Nick Senzel reached on an error by sophomore third baseman Will Craig and Farragut shortstop A.J. Simcox followed with a single to put runners on first and third for Delmonico, who represented the winning run. Delmonico fouled a few pitches off with a full count including barely fighting off a changeup, but struck out swinging on a fastball down in the zone, sealing the win for Science Hill.
"I wish I could have gotten that hit at the end, but that's baseball," Delmonico said. "The good thing is we play tomorrow and hopefully we'll keep that same attitude we did toward facing Norris. (In that last at-bat), those pitches, I should have squared up and hit back up the middle, but I didn't pick up the changeup. I was just a split second off."
Scouts have been a little down on Delmonico recently as he hasn't shown much power this season. Farragut's field has short dimensions and he only went deep once in batting practice.
"He's been very disappointing," a National League area scout said last week. "Farragut's had so many players through there—that's one of those high school programs that legitimately has a prospect for the draft every year. So I've seen him play since he was a freshman. I've seen him consistently for four years in high school and it's been a little surprising that he hasn't played better this year. He's got a good approach, it's a good swing, but he's a big, strong kid that just isn't hitting for power and he hits in a bandbox. Even in BP, he's not showing any power, which is surprising. He's been banged up a little bit this year, but he wasn't showing any power before anyone knew about any injuries so I don't know what's going."
Delmonico injured his left wrist earlier in the season sliding into third base. He says he is only recently back to full strength and thinks that has attributed to his lack of power.
"It's feeling good," he said. "It wasn't too bad. It was early in the season, I slid into third and it was kind of a jam thing. It hasn't been bothering me at all lately. I've been icing it every night as prevention. Today was the first day in BP where I felt really locked in and it was 100 percent. Catching and swinging today it felt great. It feels really good when you go up to the plate now and there is no stiffness or tightness.
"Catching is also a thing that's been wearing me out a little. But that's what it is. There's a couple balls that have been right there that I've been missing, but in BP today I felt stronger than ever and 100 percent. I'm really looking forward to going into the district tournament and I feel like right now I'm getting hot."
Delmonico still has a great frame and looks good in the catcher's gear. While he may not have shown his typical power recently, his single against Norris in his second at-bat was squared up and rocketed back up the middle.
This game had been circled on everyone's calendar for several months as it was suppose to feature lefthander Philip Pfeifer starting for Farragut in addition to Norris going for Science Hill. Pfeifer hasn't pitched since April 13 because of tendinitis in his rotator cuff. He is scheduled to start throwing on May 3 in hopes that he can pitch in relief on May 7 or 8 in the district tournament. If everything goes right he could make a start on May 10.
"I'm just doing physical therapy and working back into Tuesday, starting interval throwing and working back into relieving then starting, hopefully within a week," Pfeifer said. "It started about two weeks before the season. I remember going into a scrimmage and it was tight and then throwing the next day it felt really sore and progressively got worse. I originally got treatment, but it didn't work. Looking back on it, I think it was just overworking the upper body. I was doing a lot of pull ups, a lot of back work. I think that's what caused it. I was probably just pushing it too hard."
CONTRIBUTING: Conor Glassey
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