By Eric Kolenich
RUTHER GLEN, Va. – This time last week, Spencer Fihart was playing up with his organization’s 18u team. Even though he’s 15, he gets called upon to join the older guys.
“I like playing anywhere and whenever I can,” he said.
Rejoining his age group this week, Fihart pitched four strong innings and recorded three hits Wednesday as the TopHand Reds (Virginia) beat the Mid-Atlantic Orioles (Virginia) 6-1 in pool play of the Pathway USBC Underclass Championships at the Virginia Sports Complex.
Playing with 18-year-olds isn’t necessarily more difficult, Fihart said. It’s just different, and it’s a lot of work doing both. He went four-plus innings Wednesday, allowing no runs, two hits and one walk. He has a change up and slider in his arsenal, but he mostly stuck with his fastball and curveball this time. Those two pitches were working well for him, and he didn’t need to mess around with the others.
He allowed one base runner to get in scoring position in the first, second and fourth, but he never let a runner get closer to home than 90 feet. It wasn’t nerve-wracking that the Orioles kept putting runners on base, Fihart said. It helped that the Reds had a 5-0 lead after two innings.
“You gotta rely on your defense and let them do their work,” he said.
Plus he was economic, Reds’ coach Any Castro pointed out. When he exited in the fifth inning, Fihart had thrown about 50 pitches.
The coaching staff called the pitches, something Fihart isn’t used to. In school, his catcher calls them. Given how few of his pitches were hit by opposing batters, he couldn’t get too upset.
The Orioles’ best chance at mounting a rally came in the fifth when they put runners on first and second with no outs. The Reds called on Ethan Blakeney from the bullpen, who recorded three consecutive outs and squelched the rally.
He gave up one run, unearned, in the seventh when Luke Calveric scored on a passed ball.
His teammates call Blakeney, “Batman,” because when he joined the team as a 10-year-old, he wore Batman cleats and gloves. And it’s his favorite superhero. He says the nickname has grown on him.
Like Fihart, he often plays up with the older guys. Blakeney is 14, but often plays with the 16- and 17-year-olds.
In the seventh, he switched from a four-seam fastball to a two-seam fastball, which he says cuts a little more toward right-handed batters. He struck out two batters that inning and ended the game by inducing a ground ball to the shortstop.
Fihart and Blakeney were two of the Reds’ most productive hitters Wednesday, even though they batted eighth and ninth in the lineup. Fihart finished 3 for 3 with a run, a double and an RBI. Blakeney was 2 for 3 with a run and two RBI; No. 10 hitter Joey Capizola had two RBI. The Reds got good offense from the whole lineup, accumulating 10 hits.
Aren Miller had two hits and a run scored. Nathan Yeary had a hit and a run. The Reds could have done more damage. They left a runner on base in the third, fourth and sixth innings.
Orioles starter Hunter Fallen struggled in the first two innings, when he allowed five runs on three hits and two walks. But he regained his composure afterward and didn’t allow a run the next four innings. Calveric had two of the Orioles’ four hits.