2014 NHSI: Defense, Pitching Leads ThunderRidge

CARY, N.C.—After their first two games, ThunderRidge coach Joe White wondered to where his team's usually excellent defense had disappeared. He and his team found it on Friday.

The Grizzlies committed eight errors in their first two games, but in their National High School Invitational finale, ThunderRidge (Highlands Ridge, Colo.) played exemplary defense. Sophomore pitcher Jake Eisler's quick pace and fill-the-zone approach worked perfectly with an infield that made excellent play after excellent play as the Grizzlies shut out Venice (Fla.) 3-0.

"We do have a good defense. We haven't played very good defense this week, but our up-the-middle defense is unbelievable and our third baseman did a great job … When you have a pitcher throwing strikes with a great pace it helps," White said.

Jake Eisler

Jake Eisler (Photo by Alyson Boyer Rode)

Eisler showed why he's a name to remember. Only a sophomore, Eisler located his 84-86 mph fastball impeccably and consistently got ahead of Venice hitters. His secondary stuff may not be as advanced as his fastball, but his fastball was good enough to stay ahead of Venice's lineup. Of the 23 batters he faced, Eisler threw first-pitch strikes to 18.

"Coming out of the bullpen (to start the game) that's what I noticed—I was locating my fastball," Eisler said.

ThunderRidge's bats had one big inning, which was more than enough. The Grizzlies led off the second with a pair of walks, then an error loaded the bases with one out. From there, Aaron Gemani, Josh Brown and Brody Westmoreland had three consecutive singles for a 3-0 lead.

ThunderRidge didn't have many more chances as reliever Wade Hunkapillar came into the game in the third and stymied the Grizzlies with a knuckleball that danced, helped by a wind blowing in from center field.

Venice did get runners to scoring position in the third, fourth, sixth and seventh, but every time they rallied, ThunderRidge would halt the rally. Eisler picked up a strikeout to strand Dalton Guthrie at second in the fourth. Third baseman Tim Donlan robbed Mike Rivera of a potentially run-scoring hit with a snag of a line drive in the sixth and reliever Tyler Loptein induced a fly out to end the final threat as Venice left runners at first and second in the seventh.

Guthrie had three hits for Venice.

ThunderRidge finished its NHSI tournament with a 2-2 record. Venice went 1-3.