ROCKY RIVER — The Keystone Wildcats can be forgiven if they mistook the Lutheran West Longhorns’ baseball field for the Longhorn Steak House given the manner in which they feasted on the home team’s pitching in a 24-0 five-inning, mercy-rule thumping Thursday in a Patriot Athletic Conference crossover game.
The blowout win isn’t exactly unusual behavior for the Wildcats (4-0, 3-0), who came into the game fresh off back-to-back 14-2 and 17-0 home and away muggings of Wellington.
In the unfortunate role of the home plate special, was Longhorn starter Greg Kunze, who struggled with control issues from the get-go on an afternoon of gale-force winds and thundering Keystone bats.
In the first inning, Kunze walked three and had a wild pitch to help spot the Wildcats a 2-0 lead.
“Their No. 1 over there, Kunze, is a good pitcher,” Keystone coach Bert Fitzgerald said. “These boys have been going up against him for years and years so they always like the challenge of playing a kid they’ve seen in summer ball. He had a rough start but we were patient. We are a patient team. I give all the credit to the team. They push each other.”
Keystone followed that quick start by batting around in the next two innings, sending 28 hitters to the plate in the first three. Kunze, who is also a Lutheran West lacrosse player, gave up 15 runs in two innings.
“I left him out there a little longer than I might have, but he needed to get the work in,” Lutheran West coach Trey Lamb said. “We’ve got some more work to do, obviously. But we’re still a young team, we’ve got three freshmen up, three sophomores up, and we’re still finding out where they’re going to play so I was moving guys around a lot today.”
Meanwhile, the Wildcats just kept moving around the bases. The middle four of the Keystone lineup — Tyler Gullett, Kendle Stiner, Marcus Gunter and Korey Horne — combined for a staggering 12 hits in 18 at-bats and drove in 16 runs.
“We’re always telling each other to look for your pitch and if you’re not getting it just let it go,” Gullett said. “All of us know we can handle 0-1 and 0-2, so we’re just looking for our pitch and trying to drive it.”
While the Longhorns’ pitching struggled all day, Keystone senior starter Collin Fitzgerald cruised on the gusty winds to his first win of the young season, allowing three hits and no runs through four innings. Chad Lowman mopped up the mercy rule-shortened fifth.
If Fitzgerald even noticed the blustery weather, you’d have never known it.
“I just have to take something off of my stuff,” he said. “If I start overthrowing my curveball it starts breaking straight into the ground. So I know to take a little bit off it. That outside upper corner was working. I was just pounding that,” said Fitzgerald, who also enjoyed the comfort of his teammates’ monster offense. “It just makes it so much easier for me knowing how much my team supports me out there.”
Contact Fred Steiner at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.