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Defending champion Field rode a three-spot in the third to a crisp 3-1 victory over visiting Woodridge, perhaps the Falcons' leading challenger in the Metro.
“It feels incredible,” Falcons senior starting hurler Austin Black said.
The teams entered the Tuesday-Wednesday series tied atop the Metro at 5-0. With the series sweep, Field (10-0, 7-0 PTC Metro) now holds a two-game edge over Woodridge (6-5, 5-2).
“Our coaching staff and our team has the utmost respect for Woodridge and (coach) Dennis (Dever),” Falcons coach Joe Peterson said. “Those were two really well-played baseball games.”
Senior second baseman Nate Rorrer started the Falcons' third-inning rally with a tapper that died on the third-base line. Junior catcher Lincoln Hackim kept the inning alive with a two-out walk.
“He sees the baseball very well,” Peterson said. “He’s very patient at the plate.”
Senior shortstop Rusty Shaffer doubled both in with a first-pitch drive to the left-field fence.
“I was just waiting for the pitch that I wanted to hit and it happened to be the first one, so I took advantage of it,” Shaffer said. “I thought it was going out at first.”
Bulldogs junior left fielder David Massey gave spirited chase. Dever said Massey got a terrific jump on the ball and had it in his glove before hard contact with the fence jarred the ball loose.
“He’s got great hand-eye coordination and he doesn’t get cheated at the plate,” Peterson said. “We’re just going to let him roll with that and be who he is. Hopefully, most of the time, he gets a good piece of that baseball.”
Black's seeing-eye roller between first and second doubled Field's lead to 3-1.
Black made it stand on the hill, earning his fifth win of the season with five one-run innings.
Woodridge put runners on in every inning, including two apiece in the fourth, fifth and sixth, but the Bulldogs stranded 10 in the losing effort.
“We’re going to get to where our capabilities are. Right now, we’re still not playing to our potential, and once we do, we will be a pretty good team,” Dever said. “(Standing base-runners) has been the story of our season. This game was very indicative of what we’ve done all year.”
Except for a strenuous fourth when he had to throw 27 pitches, Black was efficient, tossing 15 or fewer in each of his other four frames. He recorded a number of quick outs, with 11 of 23 batters faced lasting three pitches or fewer. In the third, for example, after yielding a leadoff base hit, he coerced three straight fly outs on 11 pitches.
“Usually first-pitch strike, I try to get it, paint the corners, jam them up on the inside,” Black said. “Every time they hit the first-pitch strike, they’d usually pop out or ground out.”
In the fourth, Woodridge put runners on first and second with one out, but Black struck out the next two batters on full-count heaters to get out of the jam.
In the fifth, Black relied on superb defense behind him. With a runner on first and one out, Bulldogs senior shortstop Preston Clark smashed a shot that twisted toward the left-field line, but senior Dominic Smith was able to run it down. Zane Patterson, Woodridge’s starting pitcher, followed with a liner to put runners on first and second, but Black got out of the inning by coercing a fly to center.
“They’re incredible with being out in the outfield,” Black said. “I don’t know how they can do it. I definitely can’t do it. I know that.”
The Bulldogs’ final big threat came in the sixth when a dropped pop-up put runners on first and third with two outs for Jake Margroff, who had already lined a single and a double on the afternoon. This time, senior reliever Landon Westover was able to get the Butler commit to fly to center.
“For our kids to make quality pitches in those situations against a very good hitter was great execution on our part,” Peterson said. “Our toughness the last two days was outstanding. They have a very good hitting team. To put those guys on base and be in those tough spots was very difficult. Pitch execution was great by our pitchers against a very good hitting lineup.”
For senior Jacob Godfrey, who made three catches in center after Westover took the hill in the sixth, Margroff’s fly was a relative can of corn. He also made a stunning grab in the left-field gap in the seventh, based off a perfect jump, and made a similarly beautiful catch in the sixth.
“That’s part of the game of baseball,” Dever said. “You hit the ball hard and good teams make those plays and that’s what they did. That was the difference in the game.”
Margroff was a deadly force throughout the afternoon for Woodridge. He doubled to lead off the game, sending a deep drive to right-center field, scoring on Patterson’s liner over Black’s head. He worked a masterful eight-pitch at-bat to lead off the third, ultimately sending a liner over the second baseman. Showcasing his power early, he flashed his speed in his third at-bat, nearly beating out the throw on a hard grounder to second base.
“That kid is a player,” Peterson said. “There’s a reason why he’s going where he’s going. He’s such a tough out. Our infield knows what kind of speed he has. Anytime he puts a ball in play, they’re antsy.”
Patterson also had a nice day, with two singles at the plate and five strong innings on the mound. He yielded four hits and a walk, striking out seven. He took particular advantage of the bottom of Field’s order, holding the five through eight spots hitless in eight at-bats, including seven strikeouts.
“He was throwing pretty hard,” Shaffer said. “He was probably one of the hardest pitchers we faced so far this year.”
Bulldogs senior Kasey Kelleher was dominant in his inning of relief, with three strikeouts.
“Kasey throws hard,” Dever said. “He had a nice changeup and a curve that he threw, too, for a couple of strikeouts.”