A bruise rested below his left eye and tape wrapped his ankle. Jersey Shore freshman Eric Huling certainly has experienced a painful few days.
Huling took a bad-hop grounder off his eye at Tuesday's practice before turning an ankle he sprained earlier during basketball while warming up for Wednesday's pivotal HAC-I game at Giles Field against Montoursville. Really, all Huling could do was laugh and that is exactly what he did while approaching the batter's box in the sixth inning.
Huling then delivered another huge pinch-hit, belting a go-ahead, two-run double that put Jersey Shore ahead to stay as it defeated the Warriors, 4-1. Huling provided his second game-winning hit in 12 days after belting a walk-off single against Danville and his double broke a 1-1 tie while making a winner of pitcher Tellef Notevarp who threw a complete-game four-hitter.
"I just go up there and laugh and smile about everything," Huling said. "You just have to go up there and have fun."
Huling has shined in his pinch-hit role this season and wasted no time making an impact yesterday. The freshman infielder drilled a first-pitch fastball toward the gap in deep left-center field, easily scoring Galen Greider and Christian Rishel who had both singled. The way Notevarp was pitching that two-run lead looked much bigger than it was and Montoursville (2-2, 2-2) did not advance a runner past second over the final two innings.
That Huling is coming off the bench symbolizes the depth Jersey Shore (7-1, 6-0) has and is a big reason it holds at least a two-game lead over every HAC-I team nearly halfway through the league season.
"When I played at Danville I didn't even see the pitch," Huling said. "This one I saw perfectly and just drove it."
"Staying relaxed is a big thing and Eric is a very confident kid and he's probably one of our hardest workers," Jersey Shore coach Matt O'Brien said. "He puts himself in that situation daily. He's always ready for a challenge and as a freshman that says a lot."
Notevarp was outstanding, allowing only an unearned run and throwing five scoreless innings after Montoursville tied it 1-1 in the second, courtesy of a Christian Clark RBI single. The junior right-hander induced nine flyouts or popouts and improved to 3-0. He has allowed only one earned run in those wins.
Most important yesterday, Notevarp grew stronger as the game progressed. Pitching in cold, blustery conditions did not impact Notevarp as he threw an efficient 95 pitches and recorded all four of his strikeouts over the final three innings while retiring 12 of the last 13 batters he faced.
"It is fun pitching in a game like this. I love pitching against these kinds of good teams," Notevarp said. "I knew he (Clark) was a good pitcher and I knew I had to come out here and give it my all."
Clark matched Notevarp for five innings and had allowed only three hits before running into trouble in the sixth. Greider hit a lead-off single and moved to second on a Kaiden Brungard bunt before Rishel hit an infield single. The two runs Huling produced moments later were the only earned ones Clark allowed.
The hard-throwing right-hander kept Montoursville in the game early, avoiding serious damage after Jersey Shore loaded the bases with no outs in the second inning. Clark allowed only a run off a fielder's choice then singled home Alec Rothrock an inning later to tie the game.
"That's huge for him," Montoursville coach Travis Wurster said. "We talk about damage control a lot. When things aren't going your away you have to limit the damage and he did a great job with that and kept us right in it."
Montoursville has struggled offensively its first four games and was held to fewer than four runs for a second time. The few times Notevarp fell behind in counts, Warrior hitters were unable to take advantage and get good contact. And on a day when Notevarp only grew tougher as the game progressed, those missed chances proved costly.
"It was a little cold at first and I couldn't get my curveball going but I finally got it going," Notevarp said. "I felt pretty good. I was hitting the corners and getting pitches over and starting out with strikes and that helps out a lot."
Rishel went 2 for 2, but made his biggest impact defensively. Following Clark's RBI single, Dalton Cristini pinch-ran and stole second, putting runners on second and third with one out. Ryan Mondell then hit a flyball to Rishel in right field as Dalton Young tried to tag up and score. Rishel made a strong throw home and Young was forced to turn back toward third, only to be thrown out by catcher Ryan Koch.
Brungard also had two hits for Jersey Shore and Notevarp put it ahead 1-0 in the first inning when he scored Greider with a fielder's choice. Andrew Null hit a lead-off double in the bottom of the seventh but Notevarp quickly ended the threat, retiring the game's final three hitters on seven pitches.
Jersey Shore010 002 1-4 6 1
Montoursville010 000 0-1 4 2
Tellef Notevarp and Ryan Koch. Christian Clark, Alec Rothrock (7) and Andrew Null. WP-Notevarp, (3-0). LP-Clark, (1-1).
Top Jersey Shore hitters: Galen Greider 1-3, 2 runs; Kaiden Brungard 2-3, RBI; Christian Rishel 2-2, run; Eric Huling 1-1, 2-run 2B. Top Montoursville hitters: Clark 2-3, 2B, RBI; Quintin Kuntz 1-2; Null 1-2, 2B.
Records: Jersey Shore 7-1 (6-0 HAC-I), Montoursville 2-2 (2-2).