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Kettle Run wins 3rd baseball game in 4 days behind Johnson’s bat, Merriken’s arm

Friday, Apr. 4 | By Jeff Malmgren
Hayden Lilek and the Kettle Run Cougars rallied to beat Eastern View, 4-2, Friday. --Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
A 5-day Energy drink could probably be marketed well to the Kettle Run baseball team.

The Cougars have played a game each of the past four days following a slew of postponements due to poor weather and field conditions.

Alas, no such drink exists. The Cougars have done fine without it, though.

With a 4-2 win over Eastern View on Friday at home in Nokesville, Kettle Run improved its record to 3-1 overall and 2-0 in the Evergreen District (2-0 Conference 27).

“Four games in four nights,” Cougars coach Ty Thorpe said. “Right now I’m really pleased with what I see – the way we’re handling ourselves.”

Kettle Run’s offense struggled, though, over the first five innings Friday. After trailing 2-0 early in the game, the Cougars scored a pair of runs to tie the score by the beginning of the sixth inning despite amassing only three hits to that point.

Then junior first baseman Tyler Johnson came through with an RBI double in the bottom of the sixth to give Kettle Run the lead for good, 3-2.

“I chugged a 5-hour Energy drink pregame, so I was still pretty pumped,” he said. “I was looking fastball, trying to put something in play. Get one in the gap or get one down the line, score the runner.”

Johnson hit a line drive down the first baseline, driving home a pinch runner for senior catcher Randy Bardell, who reached base on an Eastern View throwing error.

The Cyclones (1-4) finished the game with four throwing errors, which allowed Kettle Run to keep the score close. In fact, all four runs Cyclones starting pitcher David Laird allowed were unearned.

That’s been a trend for Eastern View coach Daniel Nobbs’ young team, which has a 1-4 record.

“Three of the losses, we’ve actually handed the teams all unearned runs,” said Nobbs, whose squad had qualified for its region tournament each of the past five seasons and won four district championships during that stretch. “Our defense sure does love to throw it around” this season.

“When you give a team like Kettle Run [those] extra base runners and extra at bats, they’ll take advantage of it,” he said.

That’s actually the Cougars’ plan. Thorpe implores his batters to try to limit their fly balls by making contact with the top half of the baseball.

“Ground balls, you have about a 70 percent chance in high school baseball to get on base,” he said. “Hit the ball hard on the ground and good things will happen.”

Adam Nibecker, for example, began the bottom of the third inning by hitting the ball a few feet in front of home plate. Eastern View catcher Austin Huff picked up the ball and threw it errantly toward first base, allowing Nibecker to reach second. Nibecker later scored on a double by sophomore lead-off hitter Brenton Doyle to narrow the Cyclones’ lead to 2-1.

Kettle Run then tied the score, 2-2, in the bottom of the fifth inning when Jason Alvarez scored on a two-out error. Alvarez began the inning with a single and he later scored when Doyle reached base on a throwing error by Eastern View’s shortstop.

“It’s good to make contact because if you put the ball on the ground, you never know,” said Johnson, who went 1-for-3.

Nibecker led Kettle Run with an RBI, stolen base and sacrifice bunt on 1-for-2 hitting, while Hayden Lilek went 1-for-2 with a stolen base and walk.

Eastern View’s Laird allowed only five hits over 5 2/3 innings while striking out three, but he took the loss. The sophomore had never previously pitched in a varsity game.

“He pitched very well,” Nobbs said. “He only walked one guy. … He kept us in it and we just didn’t come through for him.”

Laird was the second consecutive left-handed starting pitcher the Cougars faced. They failed to score against a Tuscarora lefty on Thursday and lost, 1-0, with the only run scored during the first inning on a Kettle Run error.

The Cougars’ game against Eastern View began similarly as the Cyclones took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning with an RBI single by Huff scoring Nate Yates, who hit an infield single. Huff later scored on a throwing error by third baseman Brian Reinaldo.

Meanwhile, Kettle Run’s batters struggled against Laird until getting a pair of clutch hits in sixth inning.

“We just didn’t adjust until the right time, and thank God we did,” Thorpe said.

Juniors Reid Merriken and Alvarez pitched well for Kettle Run. As the Cougars’ starter, Merriken allowed one earned run on five hits and zero walks while striking out three over five innings.

“The [umpire] had a huge strike zone, so I was just outside,” Merriken said. “He was calling it.”

“He did a great job of keeping us in the game,” Thorpe said. “They got on some fastballs and hit them hard, but he showed resilience. … He made some really good pitches and had some pretty quick innings overall.”

Alvarez pitched the final two innings, allowing one hit and zero walks while striking out one.

With Kettle Run’s four-day stretch of games, Alvarez and Merriken provided much-needed performances. According to Virginia High School League rules, pitchers can’t throw more than nine innings in any seven-day period and must take a mandatory day off after pitching at least two innings (two days off after throwing at least four innings).

“We’ve been piecemealing the games together,” Thorpe said. “It’s been a challenge, but it’s been a blessing to have so many arms that can throw strikes.”

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