Neuqua Valley did a good job getting on base against St. Charles North junior left-hander Cory Wright Friday in St. Charles.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the Kansas State-bound Wright did an even better job picking them off.
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With as good of a pickoff move as veteran Neuqua Valley coach Robin Renner said he has seen, Wright picked a runner off first base in the first, second, third and fourth innings.
After the streak ended in the fifth, Wright allowed just one batter to reach in the final two innings on an error, putting the final touches on a complete game 4-2 Upstate Eight Conference crossover win.
"Cory was phenomenal, he's the ultimate competitor," North Stars coach Todd Genke said. "He shuts down the running game because they can't get a lead and when they do get a lead he picks them off. They are a good running team and he just shut it down. That's a phenomenal tool to have. When you can keep them going station to station because of your move it's hard to score."
Neuqua had 10 hits, all in the first five innings, but Wright's four pickoffs put a major dent in those scoring chances.
Two of the pickoffs came when the Wildcat runner went on Wright's first move and first baseman Jack Dennis threw to shortstop Zach Mettetal for the out at second base. The other two came with Wright getting the runner diving back to first.
"Their pitcher threw strikes, he threw a second pitch for a strike, he held runners as well as any pitcher I've ever seen," Renner said. "Every time we tried to guess we guessed wrong."
Wright threw 65 of his 92 pitches for strikes and finished with 7 strikeouts and no walks.
But it was the pickoffs that had a large and rowdy North Stars student section making its most noise during the game and everyone talking afterward.
"Every time I pick someone off it's a boost for me and my team, it pumps all of us up," Wright said. "It takes them out of a good situation to be in.
"You kind of set them up with a worse move and go with a better. I try to deceive them, make them think I'm going home. They always think it's a balk but it's step 45 (degree angle of his right leg toward first base)."
Wright said he's been working on the pickoff move almost as long as he's been pitching.
"Picking people off I've kind of worked on that ever since I was a little kid," Wright said. "I've had that move since I was younger. Me and my dad worked on it a lot. It's something I rely on when people get on."
Neuqua Valley (2-6, 1-2) scored its only two runs in the first. Wright's first pickoff kept the Wildcats out of a bigger inning, leaving them with two outs and nobody on. Mike Riesner singled, got to third on a Tyler Tesmond double, and both scored on Matt Butler's 2-run single to center.
"I knew I had to bear down," Wright said of his six scoreless innings after the first. "I just had to battle back and compete. I didn't have a feel for all my pitches but I threw my cure ball well."
St. Charles North (8-1, 3-0) staged its own 2-out rally in the bottom of the first to score three runs and lead the rest of the way.
Dennis walked, Joe Kuczek singled on the eighth pitch of the at-bat, and Nick Drawant laced the first of his two doubles to make it 2-1. Riley Coomes followed with another double to score Kuczek and Drawant for a 3-2 lead.
The North Stars only scored one more run off Butler (5 innings, 6 strikeouts, 6 hits). Kyle Khoury walked to lead off the fourth, and courtesy runner Jake Jozefowicz stole second and scored on a single by Anthony Lambert.
Josh Piotrowski, Mike Riesner and Butler all had 2 hits for the Wildcats.
"We've just got to score more for our pitchers," Renner said.
Drawant doubled twice and walked to finish as the only North Star with multiple hits.
"We moved him in the middle and he's driving in runs," Genke said of Drawant hitting fifth instead of leadoff. "He's hitting the ball and is very comfortable there. He had a great game today against some quality pitching."
Friday's win was the latest in a fast start for a North Star team coming off a rare 19-18 season.
"I can't remember the last time we beat Waubonsie and Neuqua in the same year," Genke said. "It's been awhile. We had a down year last year and I challenged these guys all off-season to let's get back to the top of the conference where we think we belong and they have really stepped up to the challenge."