The Times West Virginian

Prep Sports

May 2, 2014

3-0 win not enough for No. 4 Fairmont Senior: PHOTOS

FAIRMONT — The game was over but there was no celebrating for the fourth-ranked Fairmont Senior baseball team.

The mood was somber even for starting pitcher and senior leader Austin Norman, who threw a complete-game shutout.

The Polar Bears (13-5) had just three hits in Thursday night’s game but, luckily enough, they produced three runs, and FSHS held Buckhannon-Upshur scoreless for a 3-0 win.

“I think we’re thinking too much,” Norman said.

Norman and the Fairmont Senior squad didn’t pick up their first hit until the fifth inning when designated hitter Daimen Davis laid down a bunt to push Ryan Ricer to second base. Buckhannon’s pitcher fielded it cleanly but with no one covering first base, Davis beat it out and Ricer made it to third on a heads-up play.

One batter later, Trae Hall slapped one up the middle to score Ricer to give the Polar Bears a 2-0 lead. That inning would go down as the most productive inning of the game for either team. Jayce Riley would single and score on an error later in the sixth to bring the final score to 3-0.

Buckhannon could never get anything going against Norman, who struck out nine batters over 7.0 innings, scattering three hits in the contest.

The senior lefty began the game by striking out six of the first 10 batters he faced.

“Austin pitched a great game,” Fairmont Senior coach Steve Naternicola said. “If it wasn’t for his pitching, we probably would’ve lost the game.”

The closest the Buccaneers came to scoring came in the fifth inning when they had a man on third with one out. As Norman stepped on the rubber to go from the windup, Naternicola called timeout and went to talk to his pitcher.

“We had our infield in, and I told him that he was going to give that runner on third about a six- to 10-foot extra jump,” Naternicola said. “That’s when I called time and told him that he needed to go from the stretch.”

After taking his coach’s advice, Norman then induced a fly ball and finished the inning off with a called strike three to get out of the inning and leave the runner stranded.

“He’s been like that all year. Consistent,” Naternicola said. “Right now he’s our best pitcher. He may be the best pitcher in the conference, also.”

When needing an out, Norman would turn to his breaking ball, a pitch that will likely haunt eight of the nine hitters who fell victim to the deadly pitch.

“It took me a little while to get it clicking,” Norman said of the pitch. “But once I start feeling it, that’s my bread and butter.” 

With the offense not hitting behind him, Norman knew he had to bring his ‘A’ game and trust wholeheartedly in his defense behind him.

“There’s a lot of pressure on them when we’re not hitting the ball,” Norman said. “They came up good tonight. I give them credit.”

As the Polar Bears move toward the postseason which is quickly approaching, the pitching situation has sorted itself out.

At the beginning of the season, Naternicola and his staff would throw roughly three pitchers by design, allowing each to pitch three or four innings with an inning left over for a closer. But now, pitchers like Norman, who has become the team’s ace, are going longer into games. This, Norman said, will help as the team eyes another postseason run.

“It’s getting down to crunch time now,” Norman explained. “We’ve got to get some kids’ arms ready, and I think that’ll help us.”

As for getting back on track offensively, Naternicola said he didn’t have an answer for that but knows with a full slate of games coming up next week, his team needs to figure it out.

“Right now it’s a mind game with them. The other week we went to Lincoln and hit five home runs and went down to Roane and Ripley and hit the ball,” Naternicola said. “They’re over-anxious. It’s contagious right now.”

Norman, on the other hand, expects the team to take heed to his coach’s words and come out firing on all cylinders Monday when the team hosts North Marion.

“Everyone down the lineup is going to get a hit on Monday,” he said. “It’ll be fine.”

Email Matt Welch at mwelch@timeswv.com or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.

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