Wherever Howard baseball utility man Ryan Kulick is positioned in the field, the amazement from watching teammate Gabe Delgado carve through opposing batting orders remains constant, especially when that curveball of his sweeps and stifles.
"It's just so good," Kulick said of Delgado's curveball during a post-game interview Friday. "I love seeing the hitters' reactions. They always jump back with some weird look."
The script was no different Friday at Marriotts Ridge High School, as Delgado once again manifested his effective curveball while getting ahead in counts with a powerful two-seam fastball.
Kulick and teammates produced a flawless outing in the field, and let out a snicker or two after Delgado sent Mustang hitters back to the dugout shaking their heads in embarrassment. The junior pitcher racked up 10 strikeouts in five strong innings to lead Howard to a 6-4 win over the reigning Howard County champions — a bounce back from the team's second loss of the season against Northeast on Monday.
"You pitch well and play good defense, you'll win a lot of games," Howard coach Nick Hoffner said. "It's definitely a big win. Good bounce back. … Gabe has a tremendous curveball, and a good fastball and changeup. When you have three pitches as a high school pitcher, it's going to be tough for high school hitters to have good at-bats against you. Today, both his curveball and changeup was working. It was definitely good to see."
Delgado amassed 87 pitches, 53 for strikes, and surrendered just four hits and one walk. Outside of the first inning in which he allowed two hits and a run while facing six batters, he cruised through the second, third, fourth and fifth frames.
He went 1-2-3 in the second inning on 16 pitches and struck out the side on 15 pitches in the third inning. In the fourth inning, a soft single that found space between the left fielder and shortstop eventually led to his second and last run surrendered. He, however, motored ahead with back-to-back looking strikeouts with his breaking pitches. It took him 15 pitches and four batters to get through the scoreless fifth inning.
"A few pitches over the plate hurt me [in the first inning]," said Delgado, who touches his fastball at 84 MPH. "And then I settled down. Taking deep breaths, building off the fastball and mixing in the off-speed and try to get people off balance. … It's a big win."
On the offensive side, the Lions strung together 10 hits and, after Marriotts Ridge went ahead after four innings, hung a four-frame in the top of the fifth. Alex Campbell started the big inning with a five-pitch walk, and Brian Jakubek and Kulick followed with a soft single to left field and base on balls to load the bases, respectively.
Matt Flynn produced a fielder's choice RBI and Jerry O'Neill hustled out another RBI behind him to go ahead 3-2. Aidan O'Connor capped the frame with a two-run double, which put the Lions ahead 5-2. O'Connor added another RBI in the sixth to pad Howard's lead to 6-2 going into the seventh, where a Marriotts Ridge comeback bid fell short.
The Mustangs dropped their first contest of the season on a day they committed three errors and had three hits after the first inning. Junior pitcher Adam Lowe, who had one inning of high school experience prior to Friday, pitched a manageable four innings, surrendering four hits and just two walks. He struck out two and his lone run allowed was unearned.
"I told one of our assistant coaches, if we're ahead or even after four innings, and if Adam gives us four innings, we're in good shape," Marriotts Ridge coach Paul Eckert said. "And when he came out, that's as far as we wanted to stretch him pitch wise. I [told Adam], 'You did your job. We'll see if we can do ours.' And we didn't.
"The team that throws the ball and catches the ball the best almost always wins the game," Eckert added. "And that includes pitching. We didn't throw the ball well pitching. We didn't catch the ball well fielding either. … Howard took advantage of it."
The Mustangs, like the Lions, will have a quick turnaround as they travel to Carroll County to face South Carroll on Saturday morning.
When asked what his team can take from Friday's loss and move forward with, Eckert said, "A good night's sleep, because we play again at 11 a.m. [Saturday] morning. So, there's no rest for the weary."