Facing hard-throwing Marmion pitcher Alex Troop on an 80-degree day when the wind is blowing out would be tough enough.
Try facing Troop on a 45-degree day with a howling wind blowing straight in from center field and you have a better understanding of what St. Francis' baseball team was up against Wednesday afternoon in Wheaton.
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The senior left-hander fired a masterful 1-hit complete game during the Cadets' 1-0 Suburban Christian Conference Blue Division victory over the host Spartans (8-5, 3-1).
Troop (2-0), a Michigan State recruit, retired the first 12 batters he faced before designated hitter Christian Kuzemka lashed a leadoff single down the third-base line to open the fifth inning.
He walked 2 and struck out 9 while facing just 3 more (24) than the minimum 21 batters through 7 innings.
"The wind definitely helped me on the mound," said Troop of his 89-pitch performance. "It gave me a few extra miles per hour on my fastball."
When Troop wasn't overpowering St. Francis hitters, he relied on a devastating changeup to keep batters off-balance.
"The changeup was awesome," said Cadets coach Dave Rakow. "His curveball wasn't great but when you get a strong wind at your back a lot of times it will take the break off your curveball. He made the adjustment and went to his changeup more often than not today."
Marmion (4-3, 4-0) managed just 4 base hits -- 2 of them wind-blown singles -- and an RBI bad-hop single by senior catcher Brady Roberts in the third inning off St. Francis starting pitcher Jason Sullivan that accounted for the game's only run.
"It was a 2-2 count and I figured he (Sullivan) was going to throw something off-speed," said Roberts. "I just tried to put a good bat on the ball and hit it hard."
Sullivan, a junior, nearly matched Troop pitch for pitch. The right-hander fanned 8 while walking 1 in a solid 6-inning stint before Matt Kelly worked a scoreless seventh.
"The way Sullivan threw, you're going to win nine times out of 10," said Rakow. "We were lucky enough today to have Troop on our side."
Edgar Sanchez led off the third with a single on a sky-high pop-up that fell in the infield before Sullivan hit Brian Simon with a 2-0 pitch, setting the stage for Roberts' run-producing base hit.
"He had pretty good command today," Spartans coach Rich Janor said of Sullivan. "He got stronger in the middle part of the game which is good to see."
However, Troop was a little bit better on this day.
"We've played together in summer ball for a couple of years," Troop said of Sullivan. "He's a good friend. It was a great battle all-around between us and it was great to come out on top."
"Obviously he's an excellent pitcher," Janor said of Troop. "I thought our hitters battled as well. We gave ourselves at least a chance to tie the game in the late innings and just couldn't get the big hit that we needed."
In the sixth, the Spartans had runners on second and third with 2 out thanks to walks by Nick Dama and Sullivan and a wild pitch.
Troop retired the next hitter on a comebacker to end the threat.
In the seventh, Kuzemka reached on a 1-out infield error. Senior Jack Ciombor followed with a bunt that eluded Troop on the right side of the infield but first baseman Zach Siwiec fielded it and tossed the ball to second baseman Sanchez covering first for the second out.
"I give Siwiec credit there for making a real good play on that ball," said Rakow. "If he charges a little too recklessly, that could've been a base hit."
"Thank God Edgar got there," said Troop. "He really picked me up because I should have been there."
Troop then retired Jake Radel on a fly ball to right fielder Danny Bicknell to end it.
"I was holding my breath on that last one," admitted Rakow.