South Elgin baseball coach Jim Kating can count on a known quantity in Michigan-bound senior ace Ryan Nutof, but he says his pitching staff otherwise is a collection of lively "throwers" still sorting itself out three games into the season.
The rotation came into slightly better focus two days ago, when junior Max Keough limited Hampshire to an unearned run on 3 hits, a walk and 6 strikeouts in a 4-1 win.
It gained further clarity Tuesday, thanks to the tandem of senior Tyler Brown and junior Ryan Weiss, right-handers who teamed up to beat Larkin and pitcher Tanner Gardon 4-3 in the Upstate Eight Conference opener for both teams in Elgin.
Weiss was particularly effective. He entered the game with two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning after Larkin's Brayden Royse ended Brown's day with a 2-run single to center field that drew the Royals within 4-3.
However, Larkin (4-3, 0-1) never threatened again against Weiss, who induced a groundball to third baseman Kyle Hays to end the fourth. In all, Weiss retired 10 of the 11 hitters he faced, allowing only a bunt single to sophomore Zach Edgar. He struck out four without a walk in 3⅓ innings.
"I was just trying to stay focused and hit the zone, (throw) strikes, and hopefully roll a ground ball for my teammates to go to first," Weiss said of escaping a first-and-third jam in his first relief appearance.
"Mr. Weiss did a real nice job," Kating said. "He came in and he threw strikes. We're still in trial by error here in regards to we don't know who we have. So it was nice to see someone step up and throw."
Brown struggled a bit with his control (4 walks) and allowed 7 hits in 3⅔ innings, but he struck out six Royals to minimize the damage.
"Tyler is going to be running out there and doing things," Kating said. "He just has to get a little more control and he'll be OK, too."
South Elgin (2-1, 1-0) scored all its runs in the first inning against Larkin starting pitcher Tanner Gardon (0-1) in his first start of the season. The 6-foot-6 right-hander was hurt in the inning by 2 walks, a hit batsman, a failure by his teammates to cover first base on a bunt and an errant throw to third base on a steal attempt, which allowed a runner to score.
"You can't spot a good team errors and runs in the beginning of the game," Larkin coach Matt Esterino said. "I thought we battled from there. We're just not good enough to make several physical and mental mistakes, which we've done the last couple games."
Hays delivered a key hit in the 4-run uprising when he missed a suicide squeeze sign and swung away for a double to right center, scoring surprised teammate Antonio Danesi, who was halfway down the third-base line when Hays connected.
"I missed it," Hays said of the suicide squeeze sign. "(Danesi) was like, 'Thank God you got a hit.'"
Gardon (0-1) settled in and controlled South Elgin's hitters the rest of the game. He retired 12 of 13 batters between the third and seventh innings. He allowed 4 earned runs on 6 hits, walked four and struck out five. Nevertheless, the rough first inning saddled him with the loss.
"I just couldn't find it," Gardon said of his early control problems. "A couple of bad breaks there, but I got out of it and started dealing. I just have to shake it off, really."