Monday, March 10, 2014 5:13 PM
Published on: Thursday, May 09, 2013
By Holden Wilen
GAITHERSBURG – The Black Knights of Avalon avenged a loss earlier this season to their archrivals at The Heights School with a 3-1 Senior Night victory at Kelley Park on Wednesday.
Senior pitcher Niko Sanchez led Avalon in throwing a complete game. Sanchez gave up only three hits and one unearned run, while he piled up seven strikeouts. Sanchez kept hitters off balance all evening with command of his curveball, changeup and fastball.
“[Sanchez] is on top of his game right now,” Avalon head coach Patrick Duffy said. “He is hitting his spots now better than he ever has in his entire career. He has got command over all of his pitches. The determination he has every time he takes the mound, it is tough to pull him from a baseball game right now because he wants it so badly.”
The Heights got out to an early lead in the first inning thanks to Avalon fielding errors. Senior centerfielder Will Marvin reached base after the rightfielder dropped a fly ball – Marvin scored two batters later.
Avalon answered right back with an unearned run of its own in the bottom half of the inning. Junior shortstop Billy Lennox singled to leftfield. After stealing second, Lennox advanced to third on a fielding error by the catcher. Junior catcher Tommy Sanchez, Niko Sanchez’s younger brother, drove Lennox in with a sacrifice fly.
After the first inning, Niko Sanchez settled in. After allowing a base hit in the first inning, he did not allow another hit until the sixth inning, retiring 15 of the next 18 hitters. After the game, he said he was looking forward to getting some rest.
“I think I get a week and a half off before my next start now, so we will see how it goes,” he said. “It has been a long two weeks. I think I threw about 300 pitches in under two weeks but it has been fun.”
Meanwhile, junior pitcher Matt McCreary started the game for The Heights. He finished after pitching four innings, striking out four and allowing two runs, one earned, on four hits.
Avalon took the lead in the third inning. With one out, junior third baseman Ian Foland reached base with a walk and then stole second base. After a flyout by Tommy Sanchez, The Heights intentionally walked Niko Sanchez to get to freshman outfielder Pearce Howard, who took advantage of the situation and lined the ball opposite field down the leftfield line for a double to score Foland. Howard finished the game 2-3 with the RBI and a run scored in the sixth inning.
“Pearce is as cool as the other side of the pillow,” Duffy said. “He had another great at-bat for us. He had two hits for us today. I am just so proud of how that kid is coming along. He took what the pitcher was giving him. He shortened up and did everything you ask a player to do.”
The Heights head coach Brian Carroccio said he thought the difference in the game was the Avalon hitters’ ability to extend at-bats. The Avalon hitters extended at-bats by fouling off pitches and increasing the pitch count, which allowed them to take advantage of opportunities, Carroccio said. It also did not help that Niko Sanchez had all of his pitches working.
“I know we can do a little bit better, but I mean, when [Niko] is on, they are really tough,” Carroccio said. “He is tough. We did a better job in the first game extending at-bats, and I think if we can kind of get him into that high pitch count, it kind of changes the game, but he was cruising today and we just could not get anything going.”
Both teams will soon advance to the Old Line Baseball Conference tournament. Duffy said it is important for his team to continue working hard even after the victory over its rivals because the teams will likely meet again in the conference tournament or the state playoffs.
“We know we are going to see them again, so we need to be prepared,” Duffy said. “You know The Heights is going to be prepared and they are going to want to want to come out and get revenge. We need to find a way to ground ourselves quickly.”