Cavs take two from Piedmont
This was supposed to be a rebuilding season for the baseball program at Cuthbertson High.
The Cavaliers graduated three Division I players and a D-II signee from their 2013 team than went 17-8 and finished second in the Rocky River Conference behind 2A state champion Piedmont. The Panthers beat Cuthbertson in all three meetings last year by a combined score of 19-1.
Piedmont has leaned heavily on its pitching staff this season, allowing an average of 3.05 runs through the first 19 games and holding opponents to two runs or less more than half the time (10).
But those numbers have been tarnished this week by the youthful Cavaliers. After giving up a total of 58 runs in their first 19 games, the Panthers' staff was hammered with 29 runs in back-to-back losses to the Cavs on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Freshman pitcher Sam Mennitt threw a complete-game four-hitter in Cuthbertson's 14-3 home win on Wednesday; the game ended with CHS still batting in the bottom of the sixth inning (due to the 10-run mercy rule).
A day earlier, the Cavs won at Piedmont, 15-11. The series wraps up tonight (7:00) in Unionville.
Junior designated hitter Bailey Connell was 3-for-3 with four RBI and reached base in all five appearances on Wednesday.
"I felt good at the plate," Connell said. "I was just doing what I practice and it worked out for me today."
Connell knocked in freshman second baseman Callen Nuccio and junior right fielder Brett Beamesderfer for the first runs of the game during a five-run first inning.
Cuthbertson had 11 hits and drew 11 walks in Wednesday's win. Nuccio was 2-for-2 and with three walks and four runs scored and catcher Austin Zaretsky celebrated his senior day with a 2-for-3 effort that included a RBI and a run scored.
Zaretsky is now 5-of-6 in the series after going 3-for-3 with three RBI on Tuesday.
Beamesderfer starred in the series-opening win at Piedmont, going 3-for-3 with a triple, a three-run homer, three runs scored and three RBI.
Nuccio has scored seven runs against Piedmont and is 5-for-7 in the series, pulling his season average up to a team-high .477. Nuccio also leads the Cavs in runs scored (28) and doubles (seven).
The Cavs had 15 hits on Tuesday, giving them 26 for the series and elevating the team average to .303.
"I guess everybody's kind of in a rhythm," Connell said. "We're just hitting the ball well and getting on base and people are doing their job behind them. It's good to be playing well this time of year."
The Cavs have had as many as four freshmen on the field at the same time in a game.
Adding to the degree of difficulty was the offseason move up to 3A and into the powerhouse Southern Carolina Conference — the only league in North Carolina with two reigning state champions.
Despite their youth, the Cavaliers have a winning record (3-2) when combining their five meetings against two-time defending champion 3A state champion Weddington and 2A champ Piedmont.
"We're in the strongest conference probably in the state," Connell said. "It's really good for us to face all this competition heading into the playoffs."
The Cavs entered their three-game series against Piedmont in fourth place, and the SCC only has three bids to the playoffs.
The two wins over Piedmont have put the Cavs in position to control their own destiny. A win over the Panthers are Friday would guarantee CHS a trip to the postseason.
The Cavs thought they had a third-year starter back at third base, but that changed when Connell tore a tendon in his right elbow while pitching for his travel team at a tournament at East Carolina University last October.
"I threw a pitch and heard it pop," Connell said. "It was immediate pain. I knew it wasn't good."
The injury required Tommy John surgery, and Connell won't be able to throw a baseball competitively again until June.
He missed the first four games of the year because of the injury and has been the designated hitter since returning.
Connell enters today's game at Piedmont with a .397 average, which ranks second on the team.
"It still hurts sometimes but I work through it," Connell said of his elbow. "It's been tough because when you're the DH that's your one job and when you don't do your job you get a little down. I'm looking forward to playing in the field again."
Two years ago, Connell was a freshman trying to make a name for himself as a varsity player.
"These young guys have really stepped up to the plate," he said. "I went through the same thing, getting to play varsity as a freshman, and it was tough. I'm just glad the young kids have been able to succeed. ... We have good upper-classmen leadership that have helped guide the freshmen through. It's going to help a lot in the upcoming years."
Odds and ends ...
... Mennitt is now 2-2 on the mound with a 2.51 ERA in 22.1 innings. Junior Tyler Hobensack is 5-0 with a 2.21 ERA in 44.1 innings and junior Brendan Delay has a 1.46 ERA with a 3-4 record in 33.2 innings.
... A fifth-year school, Cuthbertson now has a lifetime baseball record of 104-27.
... Cuthbertson has a .943 fielding percentage with 31 errors in 21 games. Catcher Austin Zaretsky has one error in 135 chances for a team-best .993 percentage.
Southern Carolina Conference
Marvin Ridge 11, Weddington 1
Cuthbertson 15, Piedmont 11
Sun Valley at Anson, ppd.
Cuthbertson 13, Piedmont 3
Sun Valley 1, Anson 0
Anson at Sun Valley, late
WHS 7, Marvin Ridge 0
Cuthbertson at Piedmont
Weddington at Marvin Ridge
Sun Valley at Anson