Matt Smith is the type of pitcher who pitches to contact. The Merced senior relies on late ball movement in hopes of avoiding the barrel of the bat.
“I never pitch for a strikeout,” Smith said. “If you see me getting a strikeout you know I didn’t get it on purpose.”
The right-hander came up with two big strikeouts to get out of a first-and-third jam in the top of the sixth inning to preserve a one-run lead and finished off a complete game, 3-2 win over Buhach Colony on Wednesday afternoon at Merced High.
Smith found himself with plenty of company on the mound after the Thunder’s Matt Sherman singled to give Buhach runners on first and third with one out in the top of the sixth with the Bears clinging to a 3-2 lead.
Merced coach Justin Parle quickly gathered his players together to make sure Smith still had enough left in his tank.
“I just made sure everyone knew the scenario,” Parle said. “I wanted to calm everyone down and make them understand we still had the lead. The guy on first was the most important runner.”
Smith promptly struck out Justin Prichard and Jonathan Ruiz to get out of the inning.
“Coach Parle came out and calmed us down,” Smith said. “He told us to play for a double play and not to worry about the guy on third. He was just the tying run.
“Of course, I was worried about him, but I knew what I had to do. I had never faced (Ruiz) so I didn’t know how to pitch to him, but I trust my slider any day of the week.”
The Thunder’s pitcher, Kaden Verdin, and Ruiz also pitched in and out of jams all afternoon to keep their team in the game.
Eli Gutierrez delivered the big hit for Merced with a two-run single in the bottom of the second inning to give the Bears (7-6 overall, 3-2 Central California Conference) a 3-0 lead.
The Thunder answered with a two-run single by Anthony Gonzales in the top of the third inning to cut the lead to 3-2.
However, Smith settled in and retired the side in order in three of the final four innings.
The two teams will play again today in Atwater.
“Another tight game,” said Buhach Colony coach Greg Wakefield, whose team dropped to 7-6, 2-3. “That’s what I expected this week and in this league. Every team is pretty even.
“Now we have to really step up (today).”