Fresh take: Soaring Falcons relying on young pitching staff

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

If the over/under was 2.5 on the number of top pitchers for the Northwood baseball team who are freshmen, wouldn’t it be a rather obvious bet? After all, this is a team that is one step away from going to the state semifinals. A team that is one victory away from a 30-win season.

This bet looks like a lead-pipe cinch. Maybe a team like that could have one freshman starting pitcher in Class 4A, but two would be a stretch. Bet that “under” your hands bleed, right?

You’d also lose that bet.

They may not be old enough to shave or have a driver’s license, but the Northwood pitching staff is certainly good enough to have the Falcons in a place where they haven’t been since 2005 – the state quarterfinals.

Of the 29 wins the Falcons have this year, the three freshmen have 24 of them (plus a few saves). Christian Blackmon is 10-2, Jack Carlisle is 10-1 and Jaxon Bentzler, who has been both a closer and a starter, is 4-3.

A lot of high school pitchers would be happy to throw 50 innings in their careers. These three have all have thrown more than 50 innings as freshmen.

And the guy who is the least surprised at all of this? Northwood coach Austin Alexander.

“Not at all,” the third-year coach said. “We had a really good summer with our pitching and that had kind of been a week spot last year. They have really stepped up and kind of carried us all season long. Pitching is like your offensive line in football; it’s the most important piece to have success.”

Northwood will be hoping for more of that success when the Falcons take on a familiar opponent this weekend in the best-of-three quarterfinal series. They’ll be matched up against another District 1-4A team – the North DeSoto Griffins.

“We know what to expect,” Alexander said. “Same for them. It really sets up for an exciting weekend.”

The two teams met in late April with North DeSoto winning both games, 4-0 and 12-1. Each team played a home game in the series and both fields are known for being very cozy, to say the least. The quarterfinal series will be played at James C. Farrar Field on the campus of Northwood, tonight at 6 and Saturday morning at 11 a.m. for a possible doubleheader.

“It’s a small park, so you have to keep the ball down and in play,” Alexander said. “Both of us have guys who can leave the yard. It should be exciting for sure for both sides.”

Northwood is 29-9 and the No. 4 seed. North DeSoto is 31-5 and the No. 5 seed.

After both breezed in the one-game first round, each had a battle on their hands in second round. North DeSoto won both games over Breaux Bridge by one run. Northwood lost Game 1 to Cecilia but rallied to win a pair on Saturday (9-7 and 11-1).

Leadoff hitter Tucker McCabe is who makes the Falcons offense go. “He’s a grinder,” Alexander said. “When he gets on, he’s going to score. Really, I feel like we can score whenever anybody gets on. It’s not really one guy, it’s 1 through 9. We are like a Swiss Army Knife, we can do anything we need to do. We’ve got guys who can handle the bat, so we can bunt. We have guys who can split a gap (in the outfield).”

One of the things the Falcons do well is run the bases, having stolen more than 200 bases this year – an average of about six per game. “We can put pressure on people when needed,” Alexander said.

The Falcons’ coach said there is definitely excitement surrounding this series.

“The preparation has been good. The guys have been locked in and focused,” Alexander said. “There’s only eight teams left in every classification. Right now we are just cherishing the time together. We have three seniors who have meant a lot to our program and we want them to go out on top.”

Photo: by JOHN JAMES MARSHALL


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