Charleston Catholic’s baseball team started its Class A Region 3 tournament with continued dominance over James Monroe.
The Irish exploded with a seven-run fifth inning and went on to defeat the Mavericks 11-1 in five innings via the 10-run mercy rule Monday at the Shawnee Sports Complex.
Catholic is now 3-0 against James Monroe this season and the Irish have outscored the Mavericks 33-7.
“It was an excellent win,” Catholic coach Bill Mehle said. “We 10-runned [James Monroe] back in May. We had a similar kind of approach [Monday] just putting the ball in play, pressuring the defense as much as possible. The bunt game was very successful for us.”
Irish starting pitcher and leadoff hitter Jacob Hufford was perhaps the most valuable player in the game. Not only did he pitch all five innings of one-run, two-hit ball with seven strikeouts, allowing no earned runs, but was also 2 for 2 at the plate, with two runs scored and an RBI. He earned the win with his effort and is now 11-1 and has struck out 72 batters this season.
“He just did an excellent job,” Mehle said. “We had a quality [strike] zone. We knew that it would be a tight and consistent zone and we prepped for that. Jake really pitched to that. He was able to locate not only his fastball but his offspeed pitches as well. I can’t say enough about the job Jake did on the mound.”
Catholic started the scoring in the bottom of the first. After Hufford singled to lead off, he made it to third off a stolen base and a subsequent wild pitch before scoring from there off a Thomas Rennie groundout.
The second inning was scoreless. Then Rennie drove in two more runs in the bottom of the third — this time with a single to center field with runners on second and third — to give the Irish a 3-0 lead. Rennie finished with three RBIs.
In the fourth, the Mavericks scored their lone run. After Cooper Ridgeway was hit by a pitch, he scored from first when Rennie misplayed a fly ball in left field.
Catholic got that run right back, though, as James Monroe starting pitcher Andrew Hazelwood hit two batters to put runners on first and second before giving up an RBI single to Liam McGinley. Catholic took a 4-1 lead into the fifth inning.
In the top of the fifth, Hufford put an exclamation point on his start with a perfect frame.
The game got out of hand for the Mavericks in the bottom of the fifth as the Irish scored seven runs off five hits. The inning featured a couple of well-placed bunts and aggressive baserunning that played a role in three James Monroe errors. JW Armstrong had an RBI single — his second hit of the inning — to center field to drive in the game-ending 11th run.
Armstrong reached base four times on the day, going 2 for 2 with two walks and two singles.
“In the huddle before the fifth inning, I said ‘Let’s play for one [run] and then expand,’ because there’s a big difference between [leading] 4-1 and 5-1 going into the sixth inning,” Mehle said. “I did not imagine that we would put up a seven spot. I was very pleased.”
Hazelwood has had prior success against the Irish but was roughed up Monday, allowing 11 runs on 10 hits. He walked two and hit two batters.
“Hazelwood is an excellent pitcher,” Mehle said. “We knew to be successful we could not let him strike many of us out. The first time we faced him, in five innings, he struck out seven of us.”
Catholic has a shot to clinch a state tournament berth by closing out James Monroe on the road on Tuesday as the two teams face off in game 2 in Lindside. First pitch is set for 6 p.m.
Mehle said despite Monday’s blowout win, he isn’t letting his team get complacent.
“The goal is to not rest on this win today and just approach [Tuesday] as a one-game series,” He said. “They’re very mindful that one game does not win the regional.”