Any win is considered a good one if you’re Riverside Military Academy baseball coach Mike Hutch, who currently fields a predominantly young, but gritty pack of underclassmen.
Friday’s non-region game against Chestatee proved to Hutch just how tough his kids really are, gutting out a 2-0 win at Katterjohn Field in Gainesville.
Riverside Military junior starting pitcher Alex Kerns tossed a complete-game, one-hit shutout with seven strikeouts, while freshman shortstop Jacob Ladd drove in the only runs of the game on a one-out, two-run double in the bottom of the fifth inning to snap a two-game skid for the Eagles (2-3) in the second week of the regular season.
The Eagles scattered six hits over five innings against Chestatee starting pitcher Will Cantrell (six innings pitched, 3 strikeouts), who otherwise kept things even-keel with a pair of strikeouts and only one issued walk before Ladd’s (1 for 3) late-game heroics.
“They’re tough kids, military kids,” said Hutch, who has just two seniors on his 2017 roster. “They’re different kind of kids where they just know how to be tough, they really do. Good group of kids. We don’t get them as much as we’d like to. But every time we do get the chance to coach them, get them out here, it’s a blessing.”
Both squads got strong outings from their starting aces to keep it a scoreless affair for the first 41/3 innings, especially Riverside Military’s Kerns — the Eagles’ top ace in Hutch’s six-piece rotation — who found his groove early.
Kerns worked the opposition while pitching ahead in the count and used every bit of the strike zone to tally his strikeouts for the Eagles, even fanning the side in the top of the third.
“Out of all the hitters, I think he had only three of them where he didn’t throw for a first strike,” Hutch said. “The hitters had to make the adjustments to him. And that’s what he did — threw first-pitch strikes. Anytime you do that, you’re gonna win some games. Hopefully he can continue to do that in his next outing.”
Neither team could fully take advantage with a combined 10 runners left on base.
The War Eagles (0-5-1) failed to take an early lead when they left runners at second and third and two outs in the top of the first. Riverside Military followed suit in the bottom half of the inning by leaving runners on the corners with two outs.
Kerns flied out to second after Brian Markley (1 for 3) singled and advanced to second on an outfield error, and one batter later, Tom Olander (1 for 3) beat a throw to first in the inning.
In the bottom of the third, War Eagles' third baseman Cooper Wilson turned a 5-3 double play off a hard-hit line drive to end another threat.
The Eagles left four runners in scoring position, but Hutch kept telling his guys to look for their pitch and stay the course. Sure enough, the bats finally came alive in the bottom of the fifth.
After a walk by Greg Stoyne and James Basham single, Ladd roped a 1-1 pitch to left-center field to plate the only runs of the game for Riverside Military.
“(I told them) just stay aggressive, and that’s what they did. And that shortstop freshman, clutch with a double and scored two runs. They made that adjustment and that’s what we’re looking for,” Hutch added.
Kerns made his coach’s day a little easier too, as Hutch only had to visit his pitcher once in the top of the seventh. Kerns walked Chestatee’s Micah Flanagan and hit Braxton Nicholson to put two runners on and one out, though Kerns quickly recovered. One batter later, He picked off Chestatee’s Nicholson at second base, then watched as his second baseman Stroyne field a chopper up the middle and step on second for the unassisted final out.
Riverside Military visits Chestatee at 5 p.m. Tuesday.