Loveless sharp enough to pitch Centennial past Atholton, 4-0

Eagles' ace not satisfied despite two-hit shutout, 10 strikeouts in 6 innings


High School

March 22, 2002|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Season-opening baseball games don't come much better than yesterday's pitching duel at Centennial.

The defending Class 2A state champion Eagles scored two runs in the third inning, and added two more in the sixth to claim a 4-0 victory.

But it wasn't easy against Atholton ace Steve Merson, who allowed just three hits and struck out 10 batters in 5 1/3 innings.

No. 8-ranked Centennial also threw its No. 1 pitcher, Richmond-bound Brad Loveless. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound right-hander allowed just two hits and struck out 10 in six innings while displaying a 90 mph fastball.

Despite the impressive numbers, both Loveless and his coach, Dave Appleby, were somewhat disappointed with his performance.

"Anytime you throw a two-hitter and strike out 10 you feel good," Loveless said. "But I didn't feel sharp today. Nothing but my fastball was really working for me."

Said Appleby: "He's a power pitcher who was trying to finesse it, and giving their hitters too much credit. I got on him about it. He needs to throw first-pitch strikes, have a low pitch count and mix his pitches, but showcase his fastball. Everyone agrees he had an off day. But that tells you how much talent he has. I'm going to challenge him to do better."

Loveless also throws a curve, splitter and change, but could not get them over the plate and ended up walking six batters.

No. 14 Atholton had plenty of chances to score, putting runners in scoring position in five of the seven innings, and getting at least one runner aboard in all seven innings.

"They had timely hitting and we didn't," Atholton coach Kevin Kelly said. "It was a well-played game, and Steve pitched well enough to win."

Atholton batters struck out 12 times, with Centennial reliever Tom Phelan adding two strikeouts in the seventh to go with 10 by Loveless.

Centennial received a big hit from Andrew Bechta in the third inning, a two-out, two-run double to center field that scored Ben Townsend and Anthony Tinnerella. Townsend started the rally after being hit by a pitch with two out.

"I hit a second-pitch fastball, belt-high," Bechta said. "He had thrown me a curve on the first pitch, and that surprised me because he had been throwing all first-pitch fastballs. He was throwing real well."

Centennial put runners in scoring position in five of seven innings and a runner on base in every inning.

The Eagles added two more in the sixth after Loveless led off with a one-out walk and Billy Brudis was hit by a pitch. Vyt Rivers then relieved Merson and promptly gave up an RBI single to Phelan. Another run scored on a throwing error by catcher Chris Trigger.

Appleby was displeased with his team's hitting.

"We need to stop striking out and put the ball in play. We're going to be seeing No. 1 pitchers every time out, and we can't depend on just two guys to hit."

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