Bolstered by an early Houdini-like escape act from senior pitcher Chad Kuebler, followed by some timely hitting, Central Catholic took a 5-2 Three Rivers Athletic Conference baseball victory over St. Francis de Sales Wednesday at Mercy Field.
Kuebler worked 6 1/3 innings, allowing five hits to push his season record to 3-0 for the Irish (8-3, 5-1 TRAC).
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Both the crafty lefty’s escape, and the Irish offensive uprising, took place in the pivotal second inning, in which five of the game’s seven runs were scored.
“The top of that inning was huge,” Irish coach Jeff Mielcarek said. “To get out of it with only giving up one run was enormous.
“We’ve been blessed thus far with being able to come back every time we get hit in the mouth, and that was another example of that. It’s kind of a different group this year.”
St. Francis struck first with a run, but Kuebler wiggled out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam to keep it there.
Jay Denman drew a leadoff walk, was bunted to second by Nick Lankard, and advanced to third on Kuebler’s errant pickoff throw.
Knights pitcher Casey Johnson, starting his first game, plated Denman with a squeeze bunt, and reached first safely.
Mark Phillips followed with an infield single, and Andy Okuley walked to load the bases. But Hayden Huff popped out to first baseman Cam Best, and Alex David grounded out to second to end the threat.
Central made the most of its second-inning opportunity.
Colin Kaucher walked to open the frame, Richard O’Donnell’s sacrifice bunt resulted in a throwing error by Johnson, and Best’s infield single loaded the bases.
Tommy Vetter then lined a two-run single to left and, after a wild pitch moved the runners up, Kuebler’s RBI groundout sent Best home. Ryan O’Hearn’s two-out single drove Vetter home for a 4-1 Irish lead.
“I got real comfortable in there with the 3-1 count and he threw me one inside and I just turned on it,” Vetter said of his hit. “Chad getting out of that [jam] was key for us. That changed the whole game and gave us confidence going into that next [half] inning. We answered big time.”
The Knights (9-4, 2-3) made it 4-2 in the fifth, when Kuebler walked Okuley and Huff to start the inning, then fired into center field trying to start a double play on David’s comebacker, enabling Okuley to score.
Central added an insurance run in the sixth when Kaucher tripled to center and scored on O’Donnell’s sacrifice fly.
Johnson worked all six innings on the mound, yielding six hits.
Vetter, Central’s designated hitter most of the game, came on to get the final two outs after Kuebler gave up a one-out single to Huff in the seventh.
“That was the game in a nutshell,” Knights coach Tim Gerken said of the second inning. “It shouldn’t be the game in the second inning. It should be a seven-inning game, but we let one inning determine the game’s outcome. It’s frustrating, but it’s not even May yet.”
Added Mielcarek: “We held on for dear life. The run in the sixth was huge. This is a good win over a good team. Every game in the TRAC this year, you’d better be ready to play or you’re going to get your teeth knocked in.”
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