STUTTGART — Tuesday afternoon’s baseball game between Stuttgart and Woodlawn was a case study in the importance of throwing strikes.
The Ricebirds’ three pitchers combined to issue 11 walks, while the Bears’ lone pitcher Taylor Stitt had just two walks in the game.
The free-pass problem was most apparent in the top of the third when eight walks helped lead to 12 Woodlawn runs in a 12-2 five-inning win at Crawford Field.
“He threw first-pitch strikes,” Stuttgart coach Vincent Newton said of Stitt. “When he did that, he had the edge. He could throw really anything.
“On the other hand, we didn’t throw first-pitch strikes. That really limits what you can throw and they start sitting on the fastball and that makes hitting a lot easier.”
Woodlawn’s Jacob Richardson, who went 2 for 2 with a pair of walks, was really proud of his team’s approach at the plate.
“That’s one thing we did do well,” the senior said. “We go over it every day in the cage.
“If (the pitcher) is going to hurt himself, let him. We just can’t hurt ourselves, and that’s one thing we did a good job of (Tuesday).”
He eventually settled down, but Stuttgart (4-5) actually jumped on Stitt in the first inning and had a chance for a big frame.
With one run already home and the bases loaded, Alec Stover came up with the defensive play of the day for Woodlawn (15-1).
Spencer Simpson’s sinking line drive was snagged by Stover, who doubled off Jacob Clawson with his throw back to the infield. Simpson was credited with a sacrifice fly and an RBI as Preston Earlywine came across to score before the third out was recorded.
The result of the play had the rare distinction of being argued by both coaches.
Newton arguing that Stover trapped the ball and Woodlawn’s Tommy Richardson arguing the run shouldn’t count because Clawson’s out was a force out.
Both arguments fell on deaf ears, though, as the Ricebirds took a 2-0 lead into the second frame.
“That was a heck of a play in right by Alec,” coach Richardson said. “That was big to not only make the catch but make the throw in to double him off first.
“If he doesn’t make that play, it probably would have been a four-run inning for them instead of just the two.”
Following the rocky first Stitt settled in and allowed just one hit and two walks the rest of the way.
While Stitt was pitching to contact — the junior had just two strikeouts — Ricebird starter Weston Wilks had issues finding the zone.
Wilks handed out three free passes in the opening two innings but managed to end both frames with a strikeout and keep the Bears scoreless.
In the third inning, though, it all went south.
Richardson blasted a two-run home run to knot the score after Colton Williams walked to lead off the frame.
A fly ball by Stitt should have been the second out of the inning, but left fielder Derrick Fletcher dropped it and the Bears took full-advantage.
Woodlawn pushed across 10 more runs in the inning, five charged to Wilks and seven charged to Simpson, who came on with one out.
The offensive outburst was made even more impressive by the fact that Woodlawn was playing without its cleanup hitter J.P. Aiken, who is in the midst of serving three days of in-school suspension.
“J.P.’s a big player for us,” Jacob Richardson said. “We all had to pick it up a little bit with him out.”
Woodlawn impressed in the field with an error-free game, but in the end the pitching was always going to decide the game.
“I thought we did well (on defense),” Richardson, a shortstop, said. “Our pitches have thrown strikes and that’s been big. Our offense hasn’t been scoring runs like we usually do, but they have been keeping teams off the board.
“I think we have an ERA that’s less than 2.00. If you’re holding teams to just two runs, you’re going to win a lot of games.”