By Brian Paglia
The mound, for a pitcher, is the foundation upon which he conducts his business. And for some pitchers, the angle of its slope and idiosyncratic crevices, its firmness and elevation, are critical to their effectiveness.
When Locust Grove starting pitcher Seth Lucio took to the mound at Eagle's Landing on Monday in the bottom of the first inning, he didn't find it to his liking.
"It was messing with my mechanics," Lucio said, "so I had to work down. A lot of my pitches were going high."
And into batters. Lucio hit the first two Eagle's Landing batters he faced. After a strikeout, he walked the next two. For a team built upon pitching, even in its first year of existence, Lucio did not look the part.
But Lucio and the Wildcats displayed a resiliency that has carried them through a suprisingly auspicious inaugural season. Lucio got a strikeout for the second out. With the bases still loaded, Locust Grove caught Alex Davis trying to steal home to get out of the inning.
Lucio quickly settled down, dominating Eagle's Landing for the next four innings, while the Wildcats supported him with ample offense for a 9-5 win in a Region 4-AAA game.
"Seth did a great job bowing his neck when he got into trouble by throwing strikes," Locust Grove coach Stephen Phillips said. "I was proud of him."
With the mound conquered, Lucio then turned his focus to another foe: a blister on his throwing hand. For four innings, he succeeded. He retired 12 of 15 batters at one point. Eagle's Landing (6-10, 4-6) never advanced a runner past second base. Lucio struck out 10, each on his strong fastball.
"That's my main pitch," Lucio said.
By the sixth inning, the discomfort from his blister came with a consequence. He walked the first two batters he faced, allowed three hits and four runs. Lucio got out of the inning with his final strikeout on a 2-2 fastball, and Locust Grove led 7-5.
But Eagle's Landing's sixth-inning rally proved to be an aberration. By the time Dawson Brown came in to pitch the bottom of the seventh, Locust Grove (7-8, 6-6) had added two insurance runs.
After a leadoff single, Brown got three outs to preserve the win.
"We tried to get ahead in the count a little bit," Eagle's Landing coach Toby Evans said. "Then when we would, (Lucio) would battle back and bring it back even and challenge us. We were struggling with it."
Despite the mound, despite the blister, despite six walks, Lucio held Eagle's Landing to just four hits in his six innings of work, content with effort considering all he endured.
"I felt pretty good at the beginning," Lucio said, "and then I just had to worry about my blister. I just had to throw strikes and get ahead in the count."
Phillips said he challenged his team coming into the game to minimize the fielding mistakes that have plagued the Wildcats at times this season.
So Locust Grove committed no errors, and when Eric Rogers and Todd Murphy hit sharp fly balls deep in the outfield, centerfielder David Dumas ran them down. When Davis smoked a line drive into right field, sophomore Brad Elkins chased it for the out.
"That's something we've worked on all year," Phillips said, "is getting reads off the bat. Hats off to Eagle's Landing for hitting the baseball hard, but our kids tracked it off the bat and made some great plays in the gap."