It was not the game most envisioned after Richmond Hill got their season off to a fast 7-1 start. That tempo has now been slowed with four Wildcat losses in a row, the latest two coming in a five inning, 10-0, region 3-AAA opening loss to South Effingham and then a 9-0 loss to the Effingham County Rebels on Saturday.
It was not that Friday night’s loss was such a surprise, the Mustangs are the reigning region champions the last three years and have been ranked as high as tenth in the state by the latest coaches poll. The surprise was that, with Richmond Hill’s Scott Strickland on the mound, the Wildcats were not able to play a more competitive game.
While Strickland didn’t have the great control he normally does, he did get the first two outs of the first inning, and, as has been the case recently, that is when the trouble started.
After walking the next two batters, an infield error extended the inning and four Mustang base runners crossed the plate with the help of only one hit in the inning. The uncharacteristic walks, five total on the day for Strickland, helped the Mustangs to a 5-0 lead after two innings of play, and it gave the Mustangs a head start they would not end up needing.
For South Effingham, Jesse Osborne improved to 3-1 and pitched the complete game shut out while giving up only two hits to the Wildcats. It was the second time in as many games that the Wildcats have failed to produce at the plate. While they put the ball in play during most of their at bats, only striking out three times, they just were not putting any sting in the ball and made it easy for Osborne and the Mustang defense to limit the Wildcats to just three batters over the minimum.
Right fielder Aaron Pittsley’s line drive double to left field in the second inning was followed by a bloop single down the line in shallow left field by Josh Futch to mount the only offensive threat of the night by the Wildcats. A pop up and ground out on the infield by the next two batters quickly put an end to that threat. It seemed the Wildcat hitters were a little intimidated by the team they were facing and found themselves taking strikes and only swinging after getting behind in the count.The Mustangs, in contrast, mostly laid off of Strickland’s early offerings and often forced him to work from behind in the count before offering at his pitches. Chris Zittrouer’s fourth inning 2 RBI homer put an exclamation point to that strategy helped spell the end of the night for Strickland.
Chris Corbin relieved Strickland in the fourth and did a good job limiting the Mustangs to much further damage. He worked the final one and one third innings striking out two while allowing one run.
South Effingham improved to 6-6, 1-0 while the Wildcats now stand at 7-4, 0-1. Richmond Hill will be at Benedictine on Friday March 30 for a 4 p.m. start. The Cadets lost their first region game to Hephzibah by a score of 5-3.
In Saturday’s contest Richmond Hill’s Dustin Mitchell got the start but was not effective against Effingham in two and one half innings, giving up 8 runs on 7 hits. His teammates didn’t help matters when they committed three errors and didn’t give him any run support.
A couple of bright spots were Aaron Pittsley continuing his good work at the plate by going 2 for 4 and Jeremy Goolsby was 2 for 2. Alex Tucker threw 3 and two thirds innings of solid relief to continue improving his stock as well. The Richmond Hill junior gave up only one run on three hits while striking out three. Regardless of the pitching the Wildcats have stumbled on a new dilemma to solve – even John Smoltz needs run support to win. The Cats are now 7-5, 0-1.