HOMER CITY — Two decent pitches are usually enough for a high school starting pitcher to get by.
The curveball provides enough variety from the standard fastball for a hurler to have a reasonable chance at success over several innings, and most pitchers in the Heritage Conference rely on just those two pitches.
With a slider added to the fastball-curveball mix, Marion Center’s C.J. Stiles has a leg up, and it has shown this season with a 3-0 start after he tossed his second shutout of the season in the Stingers’ 4-0 victory over Homer-Center in a Heritage Conference baseball game Monday afternoon at First Commonwealth Field.
“If you can throw those three pitches, guys can’t guess what you’re going to do,” Marion Center coach Paul DeHaven said. “You get a guy that’s a two-pitch pitcher, 50 percent of the time they can guess right what you’re going to throw. If you can throw that third pitch, and not only throw it, but locate it for strikes, like (Stiles) did, that’s critical to the game.”
The senior right-hander struck out eight and walked two. He allowed five hits over seven innings. Marion Center earned its fourth win as Stiles picked up his third.
“I was feeling good most of the innings,” Stiles said. “A couple innings I was losing a little control, but then I was able to fight back and find the zone again.
A lot of my pitches were working today, so it felt good.”
“He’s a good veteran pitcher,” Homer-Center coach Scott Bauer said. “I’m still trying to figure that out with these guys, because at batting practice they’re all over it. We turn the velocity on our machine way up so we’re prepared to see quicker pitching, and we’re all over it. I don’t know if it’s just taking that confidence from the cage to the field. We’ve definitely seen some better pitching the last couple outings. I told our guys we’re not going to sneak by anybody. People are going to throw their better guys against us, and we’ve just got to be ready to battle.”
Homer-Center (5-4) was shut out for the second straight game, managing just one extra-base hit, a double by Austin Fairman. The Wildcats’ contact was mostly weak, going for groundouts and pop-ups.
“Just don’t throw the ball over the middle; work the ball over the corners.,” Stiles said of the key to inducing soft contact. “That’s the best thing to do: just hit the corners.”
“He has good velocity, usually in the low 80s on his fastball,” DeHaven said. “He had his curveball working well, his slider working well, and he worked ahead. As a pitcher, you can learn from that. If you work ahead, there are just unlimited things you can do in there, and that was his big thing.”
Marion Center cobbled together four runs on six hits, taking advantage of eight walks. Hunter Stiteler, who reached on an error, came around for the first run of the game in the first inning.
“We’ve just got to take what we can get, walks and stuff like that,” Stiles said. “Just take everything and try to take advantage of it, because that’s how you win games.”
“We walked eight guys, and three walks scored and one of the errors scored,” Bauer said. “You can’t give teams extra outs or free baserunners, because it’s going to come back and hurt you. Against C.J., I think we only walked twice. He didn’t put guys on base, and we did.”
Stiteler and Stiles scored two runs each, and Stiles went 2-for-3 with a double.
Homer-Center isn’t panicking, not when the Heritage Conference is still up for grabs — especially after Blairsville knocked off previously undefeated Ligonier Valley on Monday. Still, Bauer sent his players out to run a few laps around the field after the postgame huddle.
“I was trying to get their attention,” the Homer-Center coach said. “Everybody else seems to be turning it up against us, and when everybody takes a step up and turns their intensity against ours, we’ve got to be able to match it and go above it. I was making sure that I had their attention, not a punishment, because I know they’re playing hard.
“I think they needed a little wakeup call. We haven’t done anything yet. We have a lot of season left, and I’m not going to let it go by the wayside and say, I should’ve done this. This could be a pivotal day for us. Are we going to bounce back, or are we going to continue to slide? As a coach, I’ve got to do what I feel is important. We don’t have a practice tomorrow, so I’ve got to grab them and try to get their attention that, hey, we mean business. Let’s play.”