East pitching allows one run

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By Mike Farner

 MOUNT WASHINGTON – Allowing just one run in three games, the Bullitt East Chargers exploded out of the gate to open the 2017 high school baseball season.

Yes, it is still very early in the season, and yes the Chargers will face more formidable foes as the season progresses, but it was a strong start for the defending Sixth Region champions as the team works to replace its top two pitchers and half the starters in the field this spring.

“We swung the bats better than I expected,” veteran head coach Jeff Bowles said over the weekend. “The stakes get a little higher this week with Eastern and Ballard and Southern and DeSales (in a rematch of last season’s Sixth Region title game).”

So far, the team has not faced any adversity. That is something that defines many baseball teams and something that Bowles knows will come eventually.

“Not a lot of bad things have happened so far,” the coach noted. “I’d like to win 42 games and not lose any, but bad things will happen. We have to be ready to respond to those situations and dig out of some holes.

“They understand that,” Bowles added. “We’ll test ourselves.”

The program did have a little adversity last week. A pair of junior pitchers, who both worked in an 8-0 win over Holy Cross, came up with injuries. Cody Billings sprained an ankle playing basketball a day later. Matt Wheeler got the first two batters out that he faced but then landed awkwardly and had his knee pop out of joint and then back in place. Both players will be out for a time.

Still, the Chargers opened the season on Wednesday with a 10-0 victory over Fairdale and then had the 8-0 decision over Sixth Region rival Holy Cross. On Saturday, Bullitt East defeated Mercer County 6-1.

Against Fairdale on Wednesday, it was bitterly cold but the two teams wanted to play the game as a meeting later in the season had been cancelled as Fairdale overscheduled that week.

Bullitt East did what they could to end it early, reaching the 10th and final run in the bottom of the sixth inning to end the contest by the ‘mercy’ rule.

Senior Alex Lucas got the opening day start and picked up the win with three innings of work. Lucas allowed just two hits and he struck out two and hit one batter.

After Lucas, sophomores Jacob Benson and Garret Simpson both took the mound. Benson worked two innings and did not allow a hit while Simpson worked the top of the sixth inning and allowed a hit, but ended up facing only three batters.

At the plate, Bullitt East managed just five hits, but they took advantage of six walks from Fairdale pitchers.

“They were colder than we were,” Bowles said jokingly of the conditions.

Two of the hits came from junior Sean Johnson as he drove in a pair of runs. The Chargers also got a triple from Jacob Reece and a double by Michael Lobred.

Against Holy Cross, sophomore Mason Kelley got the start and he worked four innings to get the win. Kelley allowed just one hit, and that was questionable, but it was the only hit that was recorded for the Cougars. Kelley did walk three while striking out five.

Billings came on and worked one inning and Wheeler got the two outs before his injury. Simpson came on and finished with the batter after Wheeler’s injury and then worked the seventh inning.

Bullitt East pounded out 12 hits in this game with both senior Matthew Bryant and Reece had three hits. The first three hitters in the Charger lineup collected seven hits.

The Chargers got a home run off the bat of Mitchell Langley and both Reece and Zach Jones added triples. Jones had two hits in the number nine spot. Lobred had a double in the win.

On Saturday, the Chargers scored four times over the first two innings and then rolled to a 6-1 victory over visiting Mercer County.

Bowles sent another sophomore to the mound and Jarrett Wantye got the win with four innings of work. He did allow the one run, but did not allow a hit while walking four and striking out three. Sophomore Jared Ranalli worked the last three innings, allowing just two hits.

At the plate, the hot start continued as the Chargers collected 13 hits. Reece had three of those hits including a pair of doubles while Langley, Kelley and Harrison Vereb each finished with two hits. Bryant had a triple.

“I was pleased with Saturday,” Bowles said. “That is a good program. I like playing teams for the first time. You get the kids attention. We swung the bats well as eight of the nine spots in the line-up got at least one hit.”

Bullitt East will be at home on Thursday to take on DeSales and will then play host to Ballard on Friday. The team does not play on Saturday as that is the day of the prom in Mount Washington.