Defense keys Wildcats’ win over Shore

JERSEY SHORE — Forget that Central Mountain made two errors. The four potential game-changing plays it made against rival Jersey Shore on Monday far outweighed those mistakes. Take any of those plays away and Jersey Shore might have celebrated its second straight HAC-I championship.

The stellar defense and Aaron Swartz’s dominant pitching formed a vise and together it squeezed the life from Jersey Shore’s offense. Swartz threw 6 2/3 innings of four-hit baseball, the defense erased three scoring threats and Central Mountain snapped Jersey Shore’s 15-game league winning streak, winning 2-0. The Wildcats (9-4, 6-2) pulled within a game of Jersey Shore (9-2, 7-1), snapped its overall nine-game winning streak and gave it its first HAC-I loss since early April 2017.

“The defense was great. It makes you feel great out there on the mound seeing someone make great plays like that,” Swartz said. “Without those plays I probably would have went five or maybe six innings. They saved a ton of pitches.”

Swartz hit a two-out RBI single in the top of the first, scoring Asher Corl who had singled and took second on a Mahlik Houtz grounder. It stayed 1-0 until the third inning when Central Mountain made two stellar and crucial plays. Eli Willits hit a leadoff single and Koby Peacock walked, but Corl made a snap play on a ball in the dirt behind the plate and a perfect throw to Houtz at third, throwing out Willits for the second out.

A batter later, Darren Stetts hit a rocket into the hole that looked like it would be an RBI single. Instead, shortstop Trevor Hanna made a spectacular diving stop. Not only did Hanna save a run, he then cut down the lead runner at third, ending an inning where it looked like Jersey Shore would, at worst, tie the game.

Two innings later, Jersey Shore put its first two runners on. A one-out error loaded the bases, but the defense that gave, also took. Swartz was behind Koby Peacock 3-0, but threw a strike and then induced a grounder toward second baseman Tanner Lavelle who cleanly fielded it and made a quick throw to Hanna. He made the rapid turn and throw, beating Peacock by a step, completing the double play and again denying Jersey Shore a run.

“We had our chances, that’s for sure,” Jersey Shore coach Mike English said. “The ball Peacock hit, if it’s five feet either way, he maybe beats it out and we tie it. That’s a game-changer right there.”

“It was pretty neverwracking. I know I have to throw a strike and I almost walked him,” Swartz said. “I had to give him the pitch and he knew it, but luckily he grounded into a double play. That was a great feeling.”

Center fielder Austyn Carson provided more good feelings the next inning. Stetts slammed a leadoff single toward the center-field fence. Carson, though, turned from the warning track and fired a perfect laser to Hanna who caught him trying to stretch the hit into a double. That was Jersey Shore’s last big threat on a day when mounting those against Swartz was a constant chore.

The junior right-hander delivered his fifth straight quality start and had Jersey Shore off-balance all day. Swartz had complete command of his three pitches, spotting his fastball and consistently working ahead. His sharp curveball was potent, but his change-up was downright nasty.

Swartz, who threw a four-hitter against Jersey Shore in a 2-1 loss last month, struck out the side in the fourth inning and fanned at least one batter in all but one inning. He improved to 4-1, has struck out 40 in 32 innings, and allowed five hits or fewer for a fourth straight start.

“Aaron has pitched very well for us this year,” Central Mountain coach Mike Kramer said. “The changeup is deceiving. it looks like a fastball and it’s just not there. When he’s around the plate, he’s tough and hitters aren’t sure what is coming because he can throw any pitch, any count.”

“You can’t even believe how much I wanted this game,” Swartz said. “I was feeling good and all my pitches we’re working. I have come far from last year. I was the closer pretty much all last year, so it’s nice to be starting and throwing a lot more pitches. I like having control of the game.”

Houtz helped provide Swartz more control when he led off the sixth inning with a double. Central Mountain played small-ball from there. Swartz’s sacrifice bunt moved Houtz to third and he scored when Evan Prough dropped a perfect squeeze between home and the pitcher’s mound.

Swartz came within a batter of throwing a complete-game, but Dylan Young hit a two-out infield single in the seventh as Swartz reached the 100-pitch count limit. Closer Zane Probst entered and induced a game-ending flyout, earning his third save.

Jersey Shore received outstanding pitching from Timmy Saar and Aaron Best. Saar retired 12 straight batters between the first and fifth innings and struck out six in six innings. Best worked a perfect seventh, struck out one and has surrendered just two runs in his last 13 1/3 innings. While Jersey Shore’s HAC winning streak ended, it controls its own destiny and can clinch at least a share of a second straight championship if it defeats Shamokin Wednesday. Wins in their final two league games would give Jersey Shore the outright title.

“Every goal that we have is still in front of us. The only difference is the final record that we will show at the end of the season,” English said. “We still have an opportunity to win it outright and they know it. We have a bunch more baseball games. We just have to do our thing and we’ll be fine.”

Central Mountain 100 001 0–2 6 2

Jersey Shore 000 000 0–0 4 0

Aaron Swartz, Zane Probst (7) and Asher Corl. Timmy Saar, Aaron Best (7) and Dylan Young. W–Swartz, (4-1). L–Saar, (2-2). SV–Probst, (3).

Top Central Mountain hitters: Corl 1-3, R; Mahlik Houtz 1-3, 2B, R; Swartz 1-2, RBI; Evan Prough 1-3, RBI; Austyn Carson 1-3, SB. Top Jersey Shore hitters: Darren Stetts 1-3; Colby Willits 1-3; Young 1-3; Eli Willits 1-3.

Records: Central Mountain 9-4, 6-2 HAC-I. Jersey Shore 9-2, 7-1.