Head coach Doug Dick said the goal for the Hillsboro High School baseball team was to get a split with Nickerson on Tuesday. The Trojans accomplished that feat with a 3-2 win in game two.
Pitching was key. Both Jordan Faul and Kale Arnold threw complete games in their second starts of the season, although Faul threw seven innings in a losing effort.
The Trojans did work out of a couple of jams. Nickerson had the bases loaded with two outs in the third inning. The Panthers scored a run on a single but shortstop Faul saved at least a run by making a diving stop on a ball in the hole between short and third base.
Hillsboro was up 3-1 in the top of the sixth inning when Nickerson runners reached second and third with no outs. A botched bunt attempted induced catcher Lucas Sinclair to try to throw out the Panther runner trying for second base. The runner on third then broke for home and Faul responded by throwing a strike back to Sinclair.
The Trojans had the Nickerson runner in a pickle. It took five throws before a Hillsboro defender tagged the runner out sliding headfirst back to third.
“We got the ball home and ran the runner away from home,” Dick said. “We worked on the run down a little bit — that’s one of the things you can do in the gym. It was way too many throws though.”
Arnold then ended the inning with consecutive swinging strikeouts.
Dick would like to see more production from the Hillsboro offense. The Trojans scored all of their runs in the second game on a three-RBI triple by Nathan Unruh, scoring Micah Allen, Faul, and Arnold.
The Hillsboro baseball team started the season strong with a sweep of Little River Thursday at Little River, winning 3-2 and 22-7.
More importantly, the Trojans also showed head coach Doug Dick resiliency and versatility in their opening games.
Junior Jordan Faul did not know he was going to start the opening game for Hillsboro until he got on the bus en route to Little River. He was told at the same time as everybody else that the outing’s proposed starter Austin Cross was out for the season with two stressed fractured vertebrae and three herniated discs in his back.
Faul was expecting to come in as a reliever. He said his mindset and preparation did not really change, although he did look at the Little River scouting report on the drive.
The Hillsboro hurler responded to this challenge by throwing five innings and surrendering two runs, one unearned. In the process, he struck out four Redskins and walked three batters.
“I’m happy about the first game,” Dick said. “I’m tickled about Jordan.”
The Hillsboro coach has reason to be excited. Faul did everything a coach asks a pitcher to do. He worked fast to keep Little River hitters off balance. He got ahead in counts to set up his pitches. He was locating fastballs to both corners.
All of these factors were exemplified in the second inning when Faul struck out the side. Faul got each hitter in the hole at 0-2 and then worked his backdoor slider to strike out each Redskin swinging.
“He was hitting spots, his different pitches were working, he was moving the ball around,” Dick said.
The Redskins did adjust. Tanner Schafer opened up the third inning for Little River by slapping the first pitch he saw into left field. The Trojans responded by playing solid defense.
Faul got out of one jam in the bottom of the fourth, two outs with runners on second and third, with a swinging strike out. He was in a jam in the first inning, facing runners on second and third with one out. He forced a pop up and ground out to Nathan Unruh playing at shortstop.
Faul is Hillsboro’s default shortstop. With the junior on the mound, Unruh moved over from third to short. Dick said the slugging third baseman had seen zero reps during practice at the position.
Unruh committed one error in the game on pick-off throw with Chet Cordell on second base. He did not make any mistakes on batted balls. The Trojans as a team only committed one error on a batted ball in the game, with Kale Arnold, playing out of position at third, muffing the transfer from glove to hand on a grounder.
Dick added that Unruh knew all of the Trojans’ bunt cover assignments for shortstop.
“He knows how to play infield,” Dick said of Unruh.
Unruh had a two-RBI single in the first scoring Faul and Sinclair who reached on singles.
It also was obvious that senior Lucas Sinclair knew how to play catcher. The senior backstop only allowed one wild pitch in the first game. Sinclair’s pitch-blocking prowess allowed Faul to unleash any pitch with any on-base situation.
He showed off his arm a couple times too. Sinclair ended the third inning by gunning out Tevin Renken stealing second base. Sinclair also had the winning RBI, scoring Faul on a ground out in the top of the fifth.
Already with a run and an RBI, Sinclair picked up a save, throwing the final two innings for Hillsboro, striking out three batters.
He then caught all four innings in game two.
“He’s low on fluids,” Dick said after a busy night.
Sinclair helped ease the burden on his knees by keeping the Little River defense on the field. After stranding seven runners in scoring position in the first game, the Trojans exploded for 22 runs in the second game.
The Trojans hit once through the order in an eight-run second inning. Second baseman David Dick, first baseman Josh Davidson, and right fielder David Nelson all reached base twice. Sinclair, Faul, and Arnold had RBIs in the inning.
The lineup topped that inning with a 14-run fourth inning. The Trojans hit through the order twice. Nelson had two singles, three RBIs, and two runs in the inning. It was part of Nelson’s perfect day at the plate. The freshman outfielder went 4-for-4 at the dish, with five RBIs, and three runs.
“He got the offense going,” Faul said.
Nelson continued the trend of Trojans stepping up to fill vacancies. When not on the mound, Cross was destined to be part of a three-man outfield platoon with Josh Funk and Nelson. Doug Dick was enthusiastic about Nelson, David Dick, and Davidson providing hitting at the bottom of the lineup to revolve the order back to Micah Allen leading off.
Faul said picking up two wins in Little River should prove important for season momentum. The Trojans were in a hole to start the season last year after dropping both games to the Redskins.
While the Redskins were not the same 20-win club from last season, Little River has only two seniors, the Trojans still walked away with two victories in a tough environment from a well-coached team, Dick said.
Little River is not devoid of talent. Hillsboro pitchers only got Renkin out once all day, allowing the Little River cleanup man to compile two walks, a single, a double, an RBI, and a run. Renkin pitched the first game and had six strikeouts while allowing three unearned runs.