Hitters up and down the Russell lineup strive to reach the goal of batting .300 for a season. As it turns out, Russell’s pitchers also have an important percentage goal in mind.
As a staff, the Red Devils strive to throw 70 percent first-pitch strikes, according to pitching coach Matt Roy.
While they may be just a tad bit under their lofty goal to this point in the season, starting pitcher Joel Mullen did his best to get them back on track on Thursday.
The senior also put his team back on the winning track, leading the Red Devils to a 9-5 win over East Carter. Russell had lost two in a row heading into the game.
“We talked before the game about first-pitch scenarios,” said Roy, who was acting head coach Thursday night while head coach Mike Martino traveled with the junior varsity squad after its coach was ejected earlier in the week. “The goal is for our guys to throw first-pitch strikes 70 percent of the time, but right now we are only at about 53 percent. Joel did a good job of that and getting ahead in the count.”
Mullen also used Raiders’ aggressive approach at the plate to his advantage, recording eight first-pitch outs. The right-hander needed just three pitches to get through the sixth inning, as all three East Carter batters offered at the first pitch they saw.
East Carter (13-13) coach Jeremiah Shearer said he talked to his team about looking for pitches to hit early in the count.
“We knew that he is a guy that doesn’t waste a lot of pitches and throws a lot of strikes, but doesn’t overpower you, so we really wanted to hit that fastball early in the count,” Shearer said. “We knew he threw a lot of offspeed stuff, so we wanted to be really aggressive with the fastball early in the count.”
While Mullen was working ahead on the mound, Russell used its bats to get well ahead in the run count.
The Red Devils (13-12) sent 12 batters to the plate in the first inning, six of whom came around to score.
Troy Huffine got things started with an RBI single to left field. J.D Pridemore followed that with a run-scoring single to right. A wild pitch, an infield single, and a walk scored the next three runs before Heath Hensley capped things off with an RBI single to right.
“We just did a good job of stringing some hits together there in the first inning and taking advantage of our opportunities,” said Roy.
Shearer said his team really struggled to control the damage in the first inning.
“We could not hit our spots and any time you walk people early in the game you are going to be in trouble,” he said. “It was a walk and a hit, a walk and then another hit, then all of the sudden it is four or five to nothing. We didn’t even have time to get someone up in the bullpen.”
After the ominous start, the East Carter pitchers settled down to allow just three runs on seven hits the rest of the game.
Tyler Griffith, who had pitched just one inning all year, came in and tossed three shutout innings for the Raiders.
Just as the pitching staff had to go to its bullpen, the East Carter offense looked to the bottom half of the order for most of its production.
The top four hitters in the Raider lineup combined to go 0 for 12, while six through nine in the order collected six hits in 10 at-bats.
Cody McDavid, who hit sixth, blasted a home run over the left-field fence in the second inning and narrowly missed a second roundtripper in the seventh, when his shot to straightaway center field clanged off the fence.
Cole Brammer went 3 for 3, including a double, and drove in three runs from the eighth spot in the order.
The latter half of the Russell lineup wasn’t bad either, as the Red Devils ninth batter Bryant Cathey was a perfect 4-for-4 at the plate.
Justin Fraley and Bobby May also had RBI doubles for Russell.
E. CARTER 012 000 2 — 5 7 1
RUSSELL 612 000 x — 9 11 0
Duncan, Wells (1), Rogers (3), Griffith (4) and James. Mullen and Cathey. W – Mullen. L – Duncan. 2B – McDavid (EC), Coleman (EC), May (R), Fraley (R). HR – McDavid (EC).