Wildcats blanked in opener
ST. LEON – After general weather nastiness postponed the start of Franklin County’s baseball season over the weekend, the 2023 Wildcats finally saw meaningful game action Monday afternoon on the East Central turf.
A two-out three-run bomb by Trojan leadoff hitter Eli Aston and the combined shutout pitching of juniors Max Hotze and Cole Burton helped the hosts to an 8-0 shutout win of their Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference rival.
The Cats put at least one runner on base in each inning but couldn’t come up with a clutch hit in any of those. Meanwhile, EC scored in four of six at-bats off a pair of Wildcat hurlers to put the game away.
FC’s first threat ended with an unconventional double play. With senior Chase Burton on second base, classmate Brant Ertel grounded out to shortstop; Burton tried to sneak over to third on the throw but was tagged out.
Aston was also the catalyst for the Trojans’ first run, singling to left and stealing second to begin the bottom of one. A flyball advanced him to third and a slow infield hit by Sam Bond brought him in.
Catcher Xander Rodriguez popped an opposite field double to left to greet Hotze in the next half-inning. EC’s starter fanned the next two batters and popped Avery Harrison up to second.
Ertel gave up a single to Lincoln Wilhelm to begin the Trojans’ second. He then set down two in a row on strikes before Moses Wheat legged out an infield tapper. With two on and the lineup turning over, Aston whacked an Ertel heater over the fence in left for a 4-0 EC lead.
Junior Isaiah Lee led off the Wildcat third with a base on balls, though he was soon erased on a stolen base attempt. Thus, Hotze faced the minimum of three batters in the frame. Ertel had a similar result in his final inning of work, maneuvering around a leadoff walk and finishing with six strikeouts.
Hotze ended his stint on the mound by facing four batters in the fourth, stranding Rodriguez at first after a walk. Senior Trevor Moizuk relieved Ertel and worked around a single by AJ Reynolds in the bottom of four.
EC’s Burton walked the first hitter he faced – first baseman Ben Becker – in the top of the fifth. Harrison followed with a single to left but Burton caught two Cats looking and junior leadoff Eli Butt lined out to second.
The Trojans got one off Moizuk in the bottom of the frame. Brayden Rouse singled to left and moved up on a passed ball. Bond then smacked one down the third-base line to make it a 5-0 game.
FC put three runners on base when the sixth rolled around. Burton led off with a walk, becoming the first out on a fielder’s choice. Ertel and Rodriguez (single to left) were on base when EC’s infield turned a 4-6-3 inning-ending double play.
East Central broke the game open in the bottom of the sixth. Andrew Roy walked and Reynolds singled. Max Daniels moved the runners up with a groundout to second. Aston drew a walk to load the bases and Rouse singled home Roy, though Reynolds was thrown out at home. Bond doubled in two more with a rope to left and soon became the third out on another FC outfield assist at the plate. Moizuk was charged with three runs as Burton pitched to EC’s final batter.
Becker walked again to start the top of seven. Two strikeouts later, senior Adam Barrett coaxed a walk; the game ended with a deep flyout off the bat of Butt.
Hotze fanned four in four scoreless innings for the win and Burton earned the save while adding four punchouts. Ertel took the loss.
FC tries to even the season series with its neighbor Thursday at Jim Hughes Field. The Trojans travel to take on Columbus North this evening.