By REID TUCKER
Brendan Leach turned in what must be one of the all-time great performances by a Walton pitcher when he struck out 18 South Walton batters, paving the way for a 3-0 win for the Braves.
Leach more than earned the non-conference win on Thursday, March 15, by walking just four batters and giving up a sole hit, a double in the top of the sixth inning. Aside from that one instance, Leach was all but unstoppable on the mound, never seeming to tire as he threw pitch after pitch for a total of 112 on the night. Even as the game wore on, with closer Angus Anderson fully warmed up and ready to go, Leach said he was determined to finish the game and told coach Rick Dixon as much.
“I was feeling great the whole day,” Leach said. “My arm felt alive. I got better as the game went on. Coach was iffy about it but I told him, ‘Let me have it.’ He told me it was all mine.”
The game was, indeed, almost entirely about Leach’s pitching, as his performance dominated the action and dictated the course of the contest from the outset. Dixon was ready to pull Leach after the middle innings, but he was glad he left the senior pitcher in to get a complete game. However, as good as Leach’s throwing was, Dixon said neither the fans nor the Brave’s opponents have seen the best he has to offer on the mound.
“He had a great game tonight but I’ve seen him even sharper,” Dixon said. “What he has is a great arm. He throws so hard that even when he’s not at his best he’s still capable of overwhelming opposing batters. When you have a kid like that, who wants to throw, you have to let him so long as he stays consistent, and that’s just what Brendan does.”
Though Leach gave Walton control on the defensive front, the Braves’ batters had a little trouble getting on-base, such was the determination of South Walton’s fielders and pitcher, Alex Astin, who amassed eight Ks and gave up only four hits while walking just two batters. Neither team had scored through two-and-a-half innings, but with Leach gunning down the Seahawks’ would-be hitters it was only a matter of time before some base runners made it home.
That moment came in the bottom of the third when Astin tried to sneak a fastball by Nathan Cobb for strike two, but the Walton first baseman instead gapped the ball into shallow right center for a single. Astin walked Zach Carter and then Chris Kelly got a single off a bunt that fell between the pitcher’s mound and the onrushing the catcher and first baseman of the Seahawks. Zach Burgess also took first base on balls, which moved Cobb home for Walton’s opening run.
Immediately afterward, Anderson made a sacrifice fly to left field, bringing in Carter for a 2-0 Walton lead. Leach himself got an RBI when he hit a hard shot down the third base line to send Kelly home, though Leach was thrown out at first for a second out. Astin struck out the next Walton batter, but the damage was done, as South Walton never closed up the distance.
The Seahawks’ Tyler Townson broke what looked to be a Braves no-hitter with a double deep into the outfield, but Leach quickly retired the next three batters, leaving Townson stranded at the end of the sixth inning and ending South Walton’s best chance for a comeback. The Braves held onto their three-run lead to take the win over their county rival, bringing them to a 4-4 record, while South Walton fell to 4-7.
Dixon had praise for his whole team’s effort, but said batting needs to continually improve if the Braves are to stay competitive. He especially commended Cobb on his two hits that really set Walton in motion to take the win.
“That was huge for [Cobb] to come and hit like that for us,” Dixon said. “That was great, but we need five or six guys who are swinging the bat good enough to put us in scoring position more often.”
Walton had four hits on the evening. Cobb had a single and a double, while Kelly had a single and Anderson had a double. Anderson and Leach each had a RBI.