By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
HAMMONTON — Being a good pitcher means a whole lot more than just throwing the ball hard or breaking off a nasty curveball. There are days when the conditions aren’t ideal and when the defense might let you down. A good pitcher has to be able to work around errors and through trouble when the breaks aren’t going his way.
The best asset for a starting pitcher to have — on any level of baseball — is composure.
Lukas Guerrier is just a sophomore at Hammonton High, but he’s starting to look like a seasoned veteran for the Blue Devils. He has a rough go of it in his first start of the season, a 12-2 loss to Millville in which he allowed 10 hits and 10 runs, but he’s bounced back in a big way. Last week, he pitched two scoreless innings in a win over ACIT, and today Guerrier showed some serious moxie by going seven innings, allowing just one earned run while striking out 11 in the Blue Devils’ 6-5 win over Cedar Creek.
Hammonton let the lead slip away in the top of the seventh, but Guerrier worked his way out of a jam before any more damage could be done, and the Devils won the game in their half of the seventh when freshman catcher Landon Haines chopped a ball to third with the bases loaded, scoring Gavin West on a bang-bang play at the plate.
“I kind of just stayed focused throughout the game. My coach, (assistant coach Jeff) Longo kept telling me ‘don’t let (Cedar Creek) affect you, don’t get fazed by their chatting.’ I just stuck through it, didn’t let it get to me. We played a great game and I’m glad we hit the ball. It was a great game all around,” Guerrier said. “After they scored that run in the seventh inning and tied it up, I just had to work back, get back in my head and think about what I had to do. After we got in the dugout, I was shaking on the bench. Everybody was really excited, Landon came through and we won it for us.”
Hammonton (3-2, 2-1 Cape-Atlantic League American) got off to a great start, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first off Creek’s No. 1 starter, Christian Coppola. West got the rally started with a bloop RBI single to right and Andrew Fields plated another run with a fielder’s choice. The Pirates (4-3, 2-2 CAL National) got back into it in the second, scoring a pair of runs to shave the lead to 3-2. Sophomore Sean O’Kane knocked in a run with a groundout and Michael Giordano trotted home on an outfield error.
The Blue Devils went up, 4-2, then Cedar Creek cut it to 4-3 in the fourth on an RBI single by O’Kane and tied the game, 4-4, when O’Kane scored on a fielder’s choice later in the inning. Hammonton took a 5-4 lead in the fifth and seemed to be cruising toward a win after Guerrier fanned the side in the top of the sixth, but Creek rallied for a run to tie the game, 5-5, in its half of the seventh. An infield error with two outs allowed Ryan Manning to reach; he promptly stole second and then scored on a run-scoring single by John McColl. But Guerrier buckled down and got a strikeout, stranding McColl at second after a stolen base.
In their half of the seventh, the Devils loaded the bases on a 1-out single and stolen base by West and intentional walks to Sernio Aumenta and Fields, setting the stage for Haines’ heroics.
“I just told the guys we had to keep tacking on, especially with Coppola pitching. He’s a very good pitcher,” said Hammonton head coach Gregg Silvesti. “We had a good three-run start and I felt like if we could tack on little by little, we’d be OK. And that’s what we did.”
Guerrier allowed seven hits but didn’t walk a batter, and only one of the five runs he allowed was earned. After Cedar Creek tied the game, 4-4, in the top of the fourth, Guerrier allowed just one hit while striking out seven.
“My fastball, for some reason I was really locating it today, and I was throwing my slider a lot. That was working off the plate, so I had to start going with my curveball more,” he said. “I just made some minor adjustments throughout the game, worked on my release point and arm angle, and it all just fell together and worked.”
“That’s his second performance where we really didn’t play defense behind him. I think he threw 110 pitches but if we make the plays he’s probably around 85 pitches. We can’t give teams — especially good teams like Cedar Creek — four or five outs an inning. That’s something we have to clean up,” Silvesti said. “He’s not going to blow anything by you, but he stays composed. He has four or five pitches and he hits his spots. He’s only a sophomore, so he’s going to be pretty good.”
After a slow start this season, Hammonton has now won three straight and is right in the thick of things in the CAL American, trailing Egg Harbor Township (5-1, 4-0) and St. Augustine Prep (6-0, 2-0). The Devils have home non-conference matchups this week against Oakcrest and Mainland before jumping back into the conference schedule next week against Atlantic City.
“We have a big week. We have Oakcrest on Wednesday and Mainland on Friday and then five games next week. It’s great to start the week off with a win. It would have been a tough one to come out here and lose in 50-degree weather,” Silvesti said. “We want to hit our peak by the end of the year, but we just want to keep getting better and better. We have a lot to clean up defensively, and I think the bats are going to come when the weather breaks.”
Guerrier said the Devils aren’t backing down to anybody.
“This really shows teams that we are Hammonton, we are THE Hammonton Blue Devils and we’re going to come out and fight, whether (our opponents) think we’re going to do well or not,” he said. “We’re going to show them what we’ve got.”
What’s next: Hammonton hosts Oakcrest on Wednesday at 4 p.m. Cedar Creek travels to Vineland on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays