CARY, N.C.—After nearly coughing up the early three-run lead he was handed, Bishop Verot hurler Thaddeus Ward easily could have folded and succumbed to the rising tide. Instead, he buckled down and thrived.
“He got comfortable. He was a little tight, maybe a little stiff in that first inning,” Bishop Verot head coach David Nelson said. “He didn’t have his good stuff today, either. I think he got a little more comfortable, found his offspeed pitch and loosened up a bit.”
Ward allowed just one hit after the first, and Verot held on to score a 4-2 win over Orange Lutheran on Thursday in the teams’ first game of the super-sized second day of the National High School Invitational, held at the USA Baseball National Training Complex.
Armed with high-80s fastball that touched as high as 91 and a big, sharp breaking curveball, Ward fanned five over as many innings before yielding to Zack Chappell in the sixth.
On the other side, Leo Hernandez—who entered with one out in the first—locked with Ward in a pitching duel that seemed unlikely after the 40-minute first inning.
Hernandez, armed with a funky, delayed delivery and mix of fastball, curveball and changeup, stemmed Bishop Verot’s early mushroom of offense and gave his team plenty of time to potentially stage a rally.
His piece de resistance came in the fifth inning when, with two outs and the bases loaded and clearly at the end of his rope, he got Danny Tufariello to reach on a curveball and pop harmlessly to shallow left field. That result preserved his team’s one-run deficit.
Verot got a huge scare in the sixth when a controversial fair/foul call allowed Orange Lutheran’s Justin McHale aboard safely with two outs. The next two hitters reached, loading the bases for shortstop Josh Morgan, a UCLA commit and a big-time draft prospect.
Verot curiously removed the righty Zack Chappell in favor of lefthander Jonah Owenby. The move paid off immediately when Morgan lashed at the first pitch he saw and flied routinely to center field.
“He’s a veteran,” Nelson said, explaining his rationale. “He’s actually one of our starters. He was our No. 2 pitcher last year and he’s going to go to USF. He’s a veteran. He knows how to pitch and that’s what we were looking for. We were looking for him to come in and pitch and step up and, being a senior, be able to get the job done.”
Verot added a crucial insurance run in the seventh inning on Jeff Passantino’s RBI single, and Owenby closed out Lutheran in the bottom half.
Evan Daugherty opened the Verot first with a hard single up the middle, then advanced to third on a passed ball and a delayed steal. He scored the first run when Christian Hammond’s grounder snuck through the left side.
Verot tacked on two more runs on cleanup man Passantino’s sacrifice fly to deep center field and Danny Tufariello’s bloop single into short right field.
The hit chased Orange Lutheran starter Justin Bureau, whose team was spared further damage when Chappell banged Hernandez’s first pitch to short for an inning-ending twin killing.
Orange Lutheran got two runs back in the bottom half when Morgan, who had singled to open the frame, scampered home on Thaddeus Ward’s wild pitch and designated hitter Ryan Watts smacked a single past third base.
NOTES: Verot left fielder Gunnar Joslin was removed in the middle of his second at-bat with an injury. He was replaced with Seth DeHaven. Joslin tore his left labrum during his junior year, Nelson said, and the shoulder began barking after he took a big swing. He’ll miss Verot’s next game.