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Strong Pitching Guides George Jenkins To NHSI Victory

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CARY, N.C. — There was at least some internal debate among the coaching staff at George Jenkins (Lakeland, Fla.) over which one of their talented starting pitchers would get the ball in the team’s first round game at the 2018 NHSI on Wednesday morning.

In the end, head coach Chad Crosby and his assistants entrusted lefthander Daniel Batcher, who made their decision look quite wise. The 6-foot-4 junior struck out 10 hitters and allowed just one run over seven innings, ultimately giving his teammates just enough time to squeak out a 2-1, extra-inning win over Mount Carmel (Chicago).

“One of the things we thought was that [Batcher’s] offspeed could be a deciding factor in keeping them off-balance,” Crosby said. “And he came out and did exactly what he’s been doing all season—keeping (hitters) off balance, getting out in front throwing strikes, and throwing offspeed stuff. He had great command.”

Batcher’s strong start eventually ended due to a high pitch count and extra innings, which allowed righthander Nick Hain to pick up the win with two strong innings of relief. Held up by its pitching staff long enough, George Jenkins finally broke the 1-1 deadlock and scored the game-winning run in the top of the ninth, when senior Brandt Sundean hit a soft groundball up the third-base line and gave classmate Brandon Howlett just enough time to slide in safely from third.

The extra-inning drama and game-deciding play at the plate capped what was an excellent pitcher’s duel throughout, with neither Batcher nor Mount Carmel righthander Diego Munoz giving up a run over the first six innings.

While Munoz controlled the zone and pitched to contact, striking out two hitters in 6.1 innings, Batcher spotted his mid-80s fastball on both corners of the plate and used both his breaking ball and changeup to record seven of his game-high 10 strikeouts with swings and misses.

“What worked mostly was keeping them off-balance with offspeed—coming in with those pitches, mixing them in, and then coming back with fastballs,” Batcher said. “The biggest pitch I had was my changeup. It was breaking away and they just couldn’t hit it.”

After both teams traded runs in the seventh to force extra innings, George Jenkins left the bases loaded in the eighth before threatening again with runners at second and third and only one out in the top of the ninth. That’s when Sundean hit the ball just far enough up the third base line to allow Howlett to run and hook-slide his way to the game-winning run.

“I was going on contact, so I had to make sure I got a bigger lead down the line,” Howlett said. “And we had a runner [on second], so even if I’m out at the plate we still had a runner at third. We were confident, so I just tried to get as big of a lead as I can and run for it.”

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With the win, George Jenkins now advances to Thursday’s NHSI quarterfinals, when it will take on defending tournament champion Orange Lutheran (Calif.) High. And although Crosby said he is obviously happy with the decision to start Batcher and ultimately walk away with the win, he knows his team will need to cash in on more of their offensive opportunities in the coming days if they want to be the last team standing come Saturday afternoon.

“I think we’re kind of known as a team that’s gonna hit the ball all over the place, so hopefully we don’t leave as many baserunners out there as we did today,” Crosby said.

“We had many opportunities and we just didn’t come up with the big hit, so I hope it’s not like this. I love the result. The ‘W’—I’ll take the ‘W’ all day long, but I’m hoping we come through with a couple more clutch hits here.”

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