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PTC Baseball Report (April 13): Field still soaring after title season

By JONAH ROSENBLUM | Staff Writer Published: April 14, 2017 4:00 AM

The Falcons are still soaring.

Coming off last year's Portage Trail Conference Metro championship, the program's second division title in four years, Field started 2017 with six straight wins.

Field (6-0, 4-0 PTC Metro) remained on top of the Metro with a two-game sweep of Coventry Monday and Wednesday by a combined 21-4 margin. The Falcons were similarly dominant in their opening Metro series, beating Norton twice by a combined score of 14-3.

Perhaps what's most remarkable about their current success is their pitching. Despite losing their top two pitchers from last year, 2016 Metro Player of the Year Ben Rorrer (5-2, 1.64 ERA) and Kenny Spaller (5-1, 2.01), the Falcons yielded just 10 runs over their first six games. Both Austin Black and Trevor Lewis, Field's new duo on the mound after racking up significant innings last year, are 3-0.

Lewis moved to 3-0 Wednesday with a 10-4 win over Coventry in which he gave up one earned run in 5 1/3 innings. It was typical Lewis, as the hurler pounded the strike zone. He surrendered a single walk, while throwing 56 of his 81 pitches for strikes. He also tossed a complete game two-hitter in a 6-0 win over Norton April 5.

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"He's been a really pleasant surprise for us," Field coach Joe Peterson said. "He's a competitor. He's a bulldog, that's for sure."

Black was dominant Monday, scattering four hits and a walk over five frames while striking out five.

Both fit the philosophy championed by Field pitching coach Keith Bowers.

"The most important thing we can do is have a 60 percent strike ratio," Peterson explained. "He is constantly on our pitchers about getting ahead in counts and challenging guys in the back half of lineups. You cannot defend the walk. That's his philosophy. That's our philosophy."

The scary thing is Peterson thinks he has a third starter in Jacob Richards. Making his first start against Streetsboro Thursday, Richards missed the beginning of the season with a back injury, but prior to the ailment, Peterson expected Richards to compete for a spot in the rotation and he expects Richards to be very competitive now that he's back.

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It's also really hard to defend against the Falcons' potent lineup, as their top four hitters have come out of the gate swinging this season.

Rusty Shaffer has been on a tear. He went 4-for-6 in the Coventry series with three runs, four runs batted in and three doubles. He's also flashed an "incredible" arm at shortstop, according to Peterson.

Catcher and two-spot hitter Lincoln Hackim wasted little time hacking, delivering a pair of hits in the opener against Ellet, then notching an incredible 3-for-3 day with four runs and two triples Monday against Coventry. Austin Black, batting in the three-hole Wednesday, had a nearly identical performance, going 3-for-3 with three runs and a double.

"You can take any one of these guys out of those spots and we're not the same team," Peterson said.

While it's fairly common for the middle of an order to mash, though perhaps not at that rate, the Falcons are unusual when it comes to the nine-spot and the one-spot. While some teams like to put their worst hitter at the bottom of the lineup and a pure speedster at the top of the order, Field is a little different.

Nate Rorrer, in the nine-spot, has been terrific about getting on base. Take Monday against Coventry, when he singled and walked and scored two runs. Or Wednesday when he singled and walked and scored another run.

"He could be the traditional leadoff hitter, but we love him in the nine-spot," Peterson said. "Nate's a traditional smaller athletic kid that runs the bases pretty well, sees pitches and can bunt."

That meshes well with the powerful style of Landon Westover, Field's leadoff hitter. While many leadoff hitters rely on singles and steals, Westover boasts unusual slugging ability, knocking a double in Field's second game against Canton South and sending a ball off the top of the fence Wednesday against Coventry.

"(Rorrer) really sets that table for us, which lets Landon not be a traditional leadoff hitter and drive in runs, too," Peterson said. "Landon is just such a big, strong, athletic kid. He's really a complete player. He does so many things for us."

As good as the Falcons have been, it will only get harder.

The Norton team Field swept was good last year, third in the Metro at 8-6, but lost its three First Team All-Metro talents from last year in Tucker Cavanaugh (7-1, 0.69 ERA), Mitch Zimmerman (.400, 24 RBI) and Geoff Snyder (.470). Coventry tied for last in 2016 with a 4-10 division mark.

Field started a daunting stretch Thursday, facing Streetsboro ace Kyle Armbrecht, then battling Woodridge, which Field finished just a game ahead of last year, Monday and Tuesday.

Still, Peterson said, it's better to undergo such a grueling stretch with a couple of games under the belt. Woodridge and Ravenna lacked that luxury, battling within their first games of the season. When the Falcons meet the Bulldogs, it will likely be in their eighth and ninth games of the season.

"Anytime you can get out on the diamond, there's no substitute for actual games," Peterson said. "When you don't get that couple of games under your belt and you have to play such a meaningful game, that's tough."


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