The Eagles tried to make a run in the top of the sixth, but Blake Neuman and Logan Wilson teamed up to get the last six outs to seal the victory
CROCKER — Behind a solid pitching performance by sophomore pitcher Blake Neuman, the Crocker Lions were able to bring around enough runs to sustain a late rally by Vienna and defeat the Eagles 7-3 during Monday's baseball game.
Neuman was a solid pitcher for the Lions as a freshman, finishing with 49 strikeouts in 31 innings and a 4.23 earned-run average. Crocker coach Chris Long says judging by his performance in the season opener, Neuman has put the necessary work in to take a step forward in his second year.
“I was really impressed how he's come back [from the summer break],” Long said. “He was around the strike zone all night, which has been a problem for him sometimes.”
Long said he noticed that Neuman's curveball was a little better than he remembered.
Neuman said he thought so too.
“I was feeling pretty good up there,” he said. “I just work [on my pitching] nonstop and I do arm workouts every night.”
In the top of the first Neuman gave up a single on the first pitch of the game. Being the competitor he is, he made sure the runner wasn't comfortable over at first base. So, he threw over a couple of times.
A couple of pitches later, the runner thought Neuman had forgot about him.
He was wrong.
Neuman promptly picked him off, got the next batter to ground out to the shortstop and then struck out the final batter.
In the bottom of the third Crocker scored a run on a double-steal.
After Adam Shockley reached on a double that was fair by an inch on the left-field line, Caleb Newcomb then singled into left and Shockley advanced to third.
After a couple of pitches to the next batter, Newcomb took off for second first and then Shockley made a beeline for home plate on the throw to second. Both runners were safe and the Lions took the 1-0 lead.
Later in the half-inning, Ty Helms singled into center to score Newcomb.
Meanwhile, the Lions' sophomore hurler was making fairly quick work of his first three frames, but in the top of the fourth, he started to falter a bit.
After a fly out to center and a strikeout, he walked the next batter. Then the runner made it over to third on a couple of pitches that made it past the catcher. Neuman lost the next batter too, and put him on first for free.
Then, the runner on first tried to sneak over to second while Neuman wasn't paying attention. Neuman caught him off the bag and started to jog the ball over and then the runner on third took off for home. He was thrown out easily.
Heads-up base-running by Shockley allowed the Lions to pad their lead in the bottom of the fourth.
With two outs Shockley beat out an infield single to the shortstop. Then, he advanced to second on an error by the pitcher trying to pick him off at first. Then, a long fly ball into left field bounced out of the fielder's glove and safely on the ground.
Shockley was hustling around the bases on the play, being that it was two outs, and was already jogging back to the dugout after tagging home plate by the time the left fielder was picking the ball up off the grass. Shockley's run made it 3-0 Crocker.
Long said it always takes some time for his team to warm up offensively.
“It seems like we have a feeling out process sometimes and in the second or third inning we finally get going,” Long said. “Sometimes that'll come back and bite you, but we've hit well in practice and we hit well in the jamboree the other night. We had four triples in the two games [in the jamboree]. We've been swinging the bat well, and we've progressively gotten better each year, so I'm hoping that continues and this is what is to be expected now.”
After Neuman's perfect top of the fifth, the Lions went back to work offensively.
Logan Wilson, Garrett Posten and Austin Wilson all walked to load the bases. Then, Jayson Smith singled into centerfield to score Wilson. Then, Mason Boorom smacked a 2-RBI double to left. A sacrifice-fly by Newcomb made it 7-0.
In the top of the sixth, Neuman started to fizzle out. He gave up a couple of RBI-singles and another run scored on a wild pitch in the half-inning.
Even so, he was still able to punch out a couple of batters, giving him eight strikeouts in the game.
Long decided to go with Logan Wilsonto finish the game in the seventh.
After getting the first two outs, he walked two batters before getting a fly out to short, giving Crocker the 7-3 win.
“We didn't make it easy on ourselves,” Long said. “But the winning formula is, if you throw strikes, make plays behind [the pitcher] and get a few hits, you're going to win a lot more ballgames than you're going to lose.
“And that's what we did to start the season against a very good team that came off a win against a very good team in Dixon.”
Neuman said he feels better already this season than all of last year.
“Last year I was kind of shaky, I was kind of all over the place,” Neuman said. “I had some games that I wasn't throwing too great, but I'm feeling more confident up there now.”
As long as they hit the ball like this, he said, the Lions should be OK.
“Our goal is to score a lot more runs,” Neuman said. “We need to pounce on people early and put the pressure on them instead of keeping it on us.”