The St. James baseball team (7-2, 3-0 FRC) hosted Union for their first Four Rivers Conference game on their home diamond on Thursday, April 13. St. James got yet another stellar performance on the mound from Evan Grayson and just enough offense to pull out a 2-0 win over their conference rival.
The strikeout was big for Grayson on Thursday and it got him out of a couple of pickles. Union was poised to score in the top of the first with runners on second and third and one out. Grayson punched out the next two batters to get out of the jam and keep the game scoreless. He followed that up by striking out the side in order in the top of the second.
The game remained scoreless until the bottom of the third. Alex Evans and Andrew Branson led off the inning with back to back singles. Gunnar Seams bunted them over to second and third to put them both into scoring position. Ty Lewis popped out to short, putting some pressure on Drew Bouse to drive in runs with two outs. Bouse came through by lining a single to center, driving in both Evans and Branson to give the Tigers a two run lead.
Things were pretty silent until the top of the fifth, which is when things got really messy. Union got a leadoff single to kick things off and a dribbler that was fielded by the Tiger catcher advanced the runner to second. Grayson then struck out the next batter, but Bouse dropped the third strike and the batter was able to advance to first. The inning went off the rails as the throw to first missed wide and a run crossed home plate and Union still managed to have another runner on second. The umpire then stopped the game to inform everyone that the Union batter ran out of the baseline, which meant he was out and the runner on second was not allowed to advance, preserving St. James' 2-0 lead. Union then grounded out to short to end the inning.
St. James wasn't able to score again after the third inning, but they didn't need to because of the pitching performance from Grayson. The senior pitched a complete game shutout, striking out 12 and allowing just four hits. Union had some solid pitching as well, as Bobby Curnutte pitched six innings and allowed two earned runs. St. James managed to work the count on him throughout the day and earned four walks alongside five hits.
"It means a lot because they're a good team and that puts me at a 0.00 ERA and gives the other guys a boost in their confidence," said the Tiger starting pitcher after the game.
Grayson has pitched in three games so far this season and he's yet to allow an earned run. He's allowed just 12 hits in 19 and two thirds innings with one unearned run allowed. This is pretty much business as usual in the eyes of his head coach Shannon Snitker.
"I told him after Vienna we were going to ride him as long as we had to," said coach Snitker. "He's willing to except the challenge...I don't know what else there is to say, he did a great job on the mound."
The biggest aid to Grayson was some strong defense behind him. The Tigers had a pair of errors on dropped third strikes, but they had several players making great plays in the field. Seams and Lewis were stellar up the middle of the diamond, which allows Grayson to be able to relax a bit.
"That's big because when the defense is playing behind you and you have confidence in them that means you can throw strikes," said coach Snitker. "With the pitch count you don't have to try to miss on an 0-2 pitch or whatever, you can just go right after a batter. If he's confident and we keep playing like we are, that just helps (our pitchers) too."
Coach Snitker stressed that it's more important to be playing well come District time than now, but he likes the way his team is playing as they approach the meat of their regular season schedule.
"I hope it helps raise (their confidence) a little bit, but I don't wanna be satisfied yet by any means," said Snitker. "Any thing that's a step in the right direction is going to be positive for them. Obviously you wanna kinda peak later on, but in the next couple of weeks if we can keep playing good baseball we can hopefully put some wins together and make a case for a good District seed."
St. James followed the conference win with the Salem Tournament, which started on Friday, April 14 with a matchup against Licking. Those results were not available at press time. They will wrap up the tournament on Saturday with games against Salem and Iberia.