Eastern Tech baseball tops Catonsville for fourth straight win

Catonsville and Eastern Tech are trying to find their identity after weather disrupted most of the early season, and Eastern Tech took another step toward that goal with a 5-2 triumph Thursday afternoon at Catonsville High School.

It was the fourth straight victory for the Mavericks (4-2).

Catonsville (1-2) has not even played its fourth game. Weather permitting, the Comets will get a chance to catch up, with five games scheduled in the next seven days.

Eastern Tech junior right-hander Dalton Decker scattered six hits over five-plus innings and the Mavericks got three hits from Cody Gwinn and a pair of hits from Andy Szamski, Justin Mack and Tim Merkel to lead the way.

Gwinn and Szamski were both pre-season all-state selections.

Jake Smuck was 3-for-3 for the defending Class 4A state finalist Catsonsville.

Eastern Tech coach Ty Whitaker praised the toughness of Decker, who didn’t have any one-two-three innings.

“He’s a bulldog,” Whitaker said. “When you are 5-foot-2 and you’re a pitcher, you’ve got to have mental and physical toughness, and he’s a tough kid.”

Decker was awakened early by a pair of line drives by the first two Catonsville batters in the bottom of the first.

Merkel caught Ryan Whittington’s deep drive to left-center field, and he hauled in a liner off the bat of Scott Beautz.

“We would like to see a little more first-pitch strikes," Whitaker said, "but he kept them off-balance and Catonsville has a very good lineup — you are talking about a team that went to the state championship game.”

Decker knew he had to spot his fastball, and that’s what he did.

“I don’t want to pipe anything, keep everything inside, outside, inside, outside and work them up,” Decker said.

Eastern Tech jumped ahead in the top of the first inning when Mack plated Grimm on a single to left, but Catonsville left-hander Jon Brown wriggled out of a second and third one-out jam by striking out the final two hitters.

The Mavericks manufactured a pair of runs in the top of the third on a squeeze bunt by Merkel and steal of home by Mack, after Merkel retreated to first on the back end of the steal.

“We put the ball in play and put the pressure on the defense,” Whitaker said. “That’s kind of what you want to do. We had an increase in quality at bats.”

“They played that small ball a little bit,” Catonsville coach Rich Hambor said.

Catonsville spent most of the afternoon playing at-'em ball, seeming to aim every hard-hit ball right at a defender.

Two balls that found grass came off the bats of Joey Getzendanner (single) and JD Klein (run-scoring double) with two outs in the bottom of the third, cutting the deficit to 3-1.

But Eastern Tech answered with runs in the top of the fourth on an RBI double by Decker and another in the top of the fifth on a pinch-hit RBI single by Andy Corbett.

Catonsville threatened in the bottom of the seventh against reliever Travis Goles.

Beautz led off with a walk.

Two outs later, Anthony Pehr and Jake Willis had back-to-back singles to score courtesy runner Garrett Wack with the second Comet run.

Smuck walked to bring the winning run to the plate, but Goles induced a flyout by Lyw Westrick to end the game.

“That’s how walks kill you in this game,” Whitaker said. “A walk and hit, hit, and all the sudden we are down to one bullet and here we are hanging on for dear life.”

Although it was the fourth straight win for the Mavericks, who host Perry Hall (10 a.m.) Saturday, Whitaker knows they're just getting started.

“We feel like a work in progress,” he said. “We have a saying around here, ‘we don’t play for March, we play for May.’ ”

Hambor knows that, too, after last season’s 17-5 record.

“It’s early in the season for everybody,” Hambor said. “It’s our third time on a field and second time on this field. We are just trying to figure out what we have exactly.”

Against Eastern Tech, he got solid relief pitching from Willis in his varsity debut.

On Friday, O’Toole is scheduled to start against Dulaney at home (3:45 p.m.) in his first varsity appearance.

“After the (Easter) break, when we get on a regular three-games-a-week schedule, we’ll have our rotation a little bit more set,” Hambor said.

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