SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. – South Pittsburg pitcher EJ Cagle is starting to refine his one-hitters.
For the second game in a row, the right-hander twirled a complete-game one-hitter, limiting visiting Lookout Valley to a bloop hit in the Pirates’ 10-0 shutout of the Jackets in a matchup of regular-season champions Wednesday night.
In his last outing, Cagle’s lone hit, however, was a solo homer which proved a little bittersweet in the end.
“Yeah, as far as one-hitters go, this one felt a little better.
You never like watching a guy round the bases after he has taken you deep. I felt great from the start tonight, and this team makes you want to pitch hard for them.
"My team had my back all night long, defensively and offensively. They made plays and they got that early lead, so I just needed to pound strikes,” said Cagle after striking out eight Jacket hitters.
South Pittsburg head coach Brian Paris was equally impressed with the latest one-hitter.
“He had such great command today and when he can throw three pitches wherever he wants to, it makes it really easy to sit over there and call pitches. His last three outings have been excellent and it’s exciting to see this time of the year,” Paris said.
This time of the year is a catch phrase for homestretch, and last night’s matchup had all the makings of a big-time playoff battle with the two teams having dominated their respective districts in clinching regular-season titles.
“I told my guys to be ready to play tonight. That’s a good baseball team pushing 20 wins and Lance Rorex does a great job with them. We had a really good win on Saturday (Soddy-Daisy) and I was a little afraid we might come out with a letdown.
“We set the tone early. A lot of times we sit back but tonight we jumped out from the start and that was big,” added Paris.
After a scoreless first from Cagle, the Pirates jumped all over starter Josh Ibach with five hits in the first frame to push across three early runs.
Travis Rowell singled hard up the middle to start it and Mason Fuqua hit the first pitch he saw over the left field fence for a two-run blast. Garrett Raulston singled down the line and went to third on a hit-and-run single off Cagle’s bat.
When the left fielder booted the ball, the first of six Lookout Valley errors, Raulston trotted home for a 3-0 margin.
“I was going to be aggressive at the plate and the first pitch was a good one,” said Fuqua of the homer. “We needed to get going early and we did. From there Cagle handled his business. I’ve caught him since we were little and he was hitting every spot in the bullpen before the game, so I knew he was on.”
Cagle rolled through the first three innings, stranding a runner in each after hitting two and another reaching via error, before Gavin Slaven broke up the no-no with a blooper just over the shortstop in the fourth.
Fuqua erased the runner with a strike to second base on a steal attempt and also picked a guy off third with his arm to thwart another threat in the sixth.
“That’s just me doing me,” laughed Fuqua of the defensive effort. “That’s part of being a catcher. Sometimes you have to help the pitcher out.’
The South Pittsburg bats were kind to their pitcher as well, banging out 13 total hits off four Jacket pitchers.
Rowell squeezed in a run with a bunt and wild throw on the play allowed another run to score in the fourth for a 5-0 lead. In the fifth, two walks, two throwing errors and Cade Kennemore’s two-run blast made it 9-0.
“We wanted to put pressure on them from the start. That was my second homer of the year, but my first one at home, so it was nice,” said Kennemore, who was a triple short of the cycle with a double and single to go with the bomb.
The Pirates ended it in the bottom of the sixth when Will Olinger drove in a run with an opposite field hit to make it 10-0.
“It wasn’t our best night. They were really aggressive and really good with two strikes on them. We never want the score to dictate what we should be doing. You have to be energetic and aggressive out there, especially when you play top notch teams,” said Rorex, his team already owning the District 4A title.
“The big takeaway from tonight is energy, effort and attitude: the three things you can control. We will clean it up. Tomorrow’s practice will be like Game Seven of the World Series, I promise you that,’ Rorex added.
Cagle threw only 71 pitches in the six-inning outing and 51 of them were strikes. Kennemore led the hit parade with his three knocks while Rowell and Olinger each had two hits.
The Pirates clinched the District 5A top seed last week and while their 15-10 record isn’t quite as impressive as the 19-8 mark the state-ranked Jackets have, Paris knows he has prepared the team well for what is ahead thanks to a strong strength of schedule.
“We try not to worry so much about the Ws as much as we do getting ready for May,” he admitted.
The Pirates won a big one over AAA titan Soddy-Daisy over the weekend and have close losses to state powers such as Greenback, and Murfreesboro Central Magnet along with Gwinette.
It wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if these two A powerhouses find a way to meet again in the postseason.
LOOKOUT VALLEY 000 000 – 0 1 6
SOUTH PITTSBURG 300 241 – 10 13 3
Ibach, Janeway (3), Howard (6) and Gavin; Cagle and Fuqua.
(Contact James Beach at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @beachnut1134)