Mount Hebron coach Dave Appleby moved the team's pitching machine closer to home plate for the Vikings' batting practice yesterday to simulate Centennial senior hurler Dave Hudson's 80-plus-mph fastball.
The move didn't help against No. 14 Centennial (8-2, 5-0).
Hudson, who came into the game with a county-leading 51 strikeouts and 0.00 ERA, needed 101 pitches to strike out eight, walk two and allow just three hits in seven innings of work.
When Hudson (4-1) was not retiring Mount Hebron batters on strikes, his Centennial teammates were snagging baseballs with spectacular diving plays on the way to a 4-1 win over the host Vikings (5-3, 3-2).
"As the game goes on I generally get stronger, so if a team is going to get to me it's going to be in the first couple innings," Hudson said. "Today I wasn't throwing my good stuff, but I had some great defensive plays made behind me."
Hudson said he did not pay attention to the San Diego Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates scouts checking his form out from behind the backstop, although he knew they were present with radar gun in hand.
"It's really the college scouts that make me nervous because I think that's where my future lies," Hudson said. "When scouts are at the game, it can cause you to lose focus for a pitch or two."
Mount Hebron did score the first earned run of the year off Hudson in the second inning, breaking the senior right-hander's streak of 29 consecutive innings.
"But in the first inning we got a little thing started and the big hitters, like myself, didn't come through for us," said Mount Hebron senior center fielder Greg Hylock, who has played the past five seasons of summer baseball for the Dayton Raiders with Hudson.
Mount Hebron had runners on first and third, thanks to a well-executed hit-and-run single by Viking DH Kevin Woods, with no outs in the bottom of the first. Hudson, however, struck out Hylock looking and senior Matt Driscoll swinging before escaping the jam by inducing senior Mark Jensen into a ground out to Eagle senior shortstop Joey Mellendick.
Centennial took a 2-0 lead in the top of the second as Hudson's leadoff double was followed by an RBI single by senior Dan Christine (team-leading .458 average), who later scored on an infield ground out by junior Curtis Mitchell (.364).
Mount Hebron threatened again in the second as Hudson's wildness (two walks) loaded the bases with one out. Centennial wiggled out of the predicament as Hudson surrendered an RBI infield ground out to Viking outfielder Brian Beneciewicz and Eagles junior catcher Jason Babcock threw out Viking runner Tony Giro, who had wandered too far off second base.
Centennial scored single runs in the third and fourth inning, compliments of an RBI double by Babcock (team-leading 14 RBIs) and a run-scoring ground out by Brian Dowdell.
Dowdell had made the first of several key defensive plays for the Eagles in the bottom of the third, robbing Driscoll of a single with a head-first diving catch in right field. Mitchell, the Eagles' center fielder, atoned for a first-inning miscue by making a diving back stab in shallow center to take away a bloop single from Viking third baseman Jimmy Long.
"We're normally a solid defensive club, it just so happens the last time Hudson started and threw the no-hitter we committed six errors, five of them throwing, to lose 3-2," Centennial coach Ron Martin said.
Christine, Centennial's starting third baseman, displayed his cat-like reflexes two plays after Mitchell's diving play. Mount Hebron senior catcher Rusty Shown stung a Hudson fastball down the left-field line, only to have Christine rob the Viking of a sure double with a leaping catch of a ball that had passed him.
"Dan gave us a crowd-pleaser there, showing off his goalie moves," Martin said. "While that is a confidence-boasting play for us, it's a downer for the other guy who just smoked the ball only to come up empty."