Centennial right-hander Kurt Weitzel lay back on the bench and smiled despite the throbbing pain in his foot.
He had just pitched a three-hit, 2-0 shutout against Atholton in a game that was important to the regional baseball playoff hopes of both teams.
The loss dropped Atholton (8-5, 5-3) into fourth place behind third-place Centennial (6-5, 6-3) in league competition. The two teams are fighting for the fourth and final Class 3A, Region III playoff spot.
The Centennial victory ended with Mark Lowenthal's line drive off Weitzel's foot that the Centennial pitching star retrieved and turned into an out. The line drive left Weitzel bruised but likely to start again Friday against Hammond.
It also left Weitzel with a 4-2 record as part of a strong three-man pitching rotation that also includes Brent Mertes and Dave Hudson.
Weitzel has pitched 32 innings and given up just 19 hits and 11 walks while striking out 43. He struck out nine batters yesterday.
"The ump had a high strike zone, and I was getting a lot of their batters out on high pitches," said Weitzel, who threw primarily a fastball and curve.
Eight of his nine strikeouts came against the bottom four batters in Atholton's lineup, including three against Shane Beaver.
The biggest strikeout came against Beaver with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the sixth. A two-out single by Kevin Nickey, an error and a walk had loaded the bases. Then Weitzel threw three straight strikes by Beaver, who was caught looking at the last one.
Weitzel also had two other key strikeouts in the second inning.
After he surrendered a leadoff single to Ryan Schneider and a double by Atholton pitcher Richard Blankenship, Weitzel then struck out Beaver, retired D. J. Chiles on a ground out and struck out Matt Rushing.
"We had some opportunities but give him credit. He [Weitzel] always did a job," said Atholton coach Kevin Kelly.
"We struck out at bad times. You have to at least put the ball in play and then anything can happen. Blankenship pitched well enough to win for us."
Blankenship (3-2) gave up only four hits and pitched to only three batters in every inning but the second.
He retired the first two batters in that inning before Brian Dowell belted a triple that rolled to the center-field fence 370 feet away.
Curtis Mitchell reached on catcher's interference. Then Jason Babcock and Joe Mellendick delivered back-to-back RBI singles. Babcock was batting eighth in the lineup and Mellendick ninth.
"We've only been averaging three hits and three runs per game, so getting a two-run lead early is something we're just not used to," said Centennial coach Ron Martin, whose team made one error yesterday.