With the home run ball taken out of the equation by fierce winds gusting straight in from center field, the Cary-Grove baseball team relied on small ball, error-free defense and outstanding pitching from Andrew Splitt to prevail 3-1 in nonconference action at Burlington Central Saturday morning.
Splitt (1-0), a 6-foot-3 junior, was locked in a scoreless duel between right handers with Central senior Alex Bell (0-1) until the fifth inning, when the Rockets broke through for the game's first run. Josh Lung doubled to right center with two outs and scored on Cody Schuver's line-drive single up the middle, staking the 2012 Class 3A sectional champions to a short-lived 1-0 lead.
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Cary-Grove (7-2) stranded a runner in scoring position in each of the first five innings but made amends with a 3-run sixth. Leadoff hitter Daniel Vilardo reached second base on a throwing error and Dean Lee followed with a single, giving the Trojans runners at the corners with no outs. A sacrifice bunt by Dean Christakes left runners at second and third for Ryan Dundon, who had entered the game in the fifth inning as a defensive replacement.
Cary-Grove coach Don Sutherland gave Dundon the suicide squeeze sign, and the senior delivered a perfect bunt up the first-base line to score Vilardo with the tying run.
"First and foremost, you just have to get it down," Dundon said. "It doesn't matter if you're safe at first or not because the guy at third is coming. Balls weren't traveling very far in the outfield, so I was expecting a low-scoring game."
Burlington Central (3-2) committed 3 errors in the sixth inning, including a throwing error by the catcher on Dundon's steal of second base, which allowed Lee to trot home with the go-ahead run. The Trojans scored their third run on Zach Marszal's bases-loaded walk against reliever Danny Gerke.
"Defensively, we have to tighten things up a little bit," Central coach Kyle Nelson said. "They do those small things well and we don't always see teams who do it that well. It's good for us to see where we need to tighten things up, like first and third (situations). Being outside a little bit more will help."
Splitt made the lead stand up, completing a 5-hitter with 11 strikeouts. He issued a lone walk.
"I know with a great defense behind me I can throw strikes and they'll make the play for me," Splitt said of a defense that has committed just 4 errors in 9 games. "I usually throw a curve, but the slider was really working."
"He's the best pitcher we've faced so far," said Bell, who limited Cary-Grove to 3 unearned runs on 4 hits, struck out 6 and walked 4.