By REID TUCKER
To call Brendan Leach’s performance from the mound against county rival South Walton anything other than dominating does the Walton senior a disservice.
Leach’s pitching arsenal was devastating against the Seahawks (10-6), with his nasty, biting 12-to-6 curveball proving all but untouchable by South Walton’s batters through seven innings of play on Thursday, March 31. Leach gave up just one hit, walked two and struck out 13 of South Walton’s batters, paving the way to a 5-0 win for the Braves (10-6).
The dominating all-around performance made it apparent that Walton’s program is in the midst of a renaissance of late, the Braves having won nine of the last 11 games. In fact, the 2011 Braves have become the most successful Walton club since the 1997 season and Leach said a feeling of excitement is contagious in the dugout. It was the support of his teammates that enabled him to throw his way to a more-than-solid win.
“I got comfortable before the game and then went out and my teammates kept me pumped up through the whole game,” Leach said. “I just went out there and did all I could do for them. I pitched the best game I could pitch.”
Though Leach stole the show as pitching goes, South Walton’s Mitchell Peterson didn’t make it easy for Walton to get on either, as he retired 10 batters and gave up just five hits in seven innings. Though Peterson performed admirably from the mound, it was fielding errors which proved disastrous for the Seahawks, as three of five runs scored by the Braves were unearned.
The game was remained scoreless through five innings but Walton began worrying Peterson and the Seahawks’ fielders with more and more contact on his theretofore slippery fastball in the fourth. Leach himself got Walton’s first hit of the evening, making it to second on the first of several costly errors by the Seahawks. Fellow Walton pitcher Brennon Orcutt singled on another error and the Braves scored two batters later when Kyle Peterson smacked a short hopper back to Peterson, who threw the ball over first base.
Leach and the Braves’ infielders retired South Walton’s batters in order in the top of the sixth. Though Walton scored four more runs in the bottom of the inning, things got off to a rocky start as the Seahawks quickly put down two batters. However, all that turned around when Zach Burgess creamed a double, driving in Angus Anderson.
The game’s outcome was practically writ in stone from then on out, as Orcutt reached to bring Burgess around to make the score 3-0. Another error from the Seahawks outfield allowed Orcutt to score and Clark’s ensuing double did the same for Liam Miller. The Braves smelt blood after that and Leach gunned down two batters before the infield picked off the last of South Walton’s batters on his way to first, ending the game 5-0 for Walton.
South Walton Coach Nick Borthwick said that errors are often the deciding factor in duels between good pitchers, and that was clearly the case in the Seahawks’ loss to the Braves. Strangely though, the mistakes didn’t come gradually, but instead all seemed to come at the worst possible moment.
“It just kind of happened,” Borthwick said, shrugging. “You can’t make those mistakes with both pitchers on their A-game. The team that makes the fewest mistakes, they’re going to win that game.”
For Walton coach Rick Dixon the win against South Walton, a pitched county rival if not a district foe, is further confirmation of recent comments made to this reporter about the changing culture of the Braves’ baseball program. While he heaped praise on his batters, who found the measure of Peterson the second time through the rotation, he was especially proud of Leach’s devastating performance on the mound.
“Brendan can pitch like that just about every time he comes out and my other pitchers can too,” Dixon said. “But he’s just about been dominating on the hill. Once he gets in that groove and gets that breaking pitch going, it’s lights out.”