CRYSTAL LAKE – The Crystal Lake Central baseball team put on a defensive show Saturday morning and helped starting pitcher Fred Birr pick up his first win of the season.
The sophomore was strong on the mound in his second start and allowed four hits and one unearned run in 5 2/3 innings in a 6-1 Fox Valley Conference crossover victory over host Crystal Lake South.
"Defense carried us today," Tigers coach Dan Badgley said. "Fred Birr did unbelievable out there and the whole team played well."
Birr pitched to contact as he struck out only one batter, but the movement on his pitches helped keep the Gators from making solid contact. When the Gators did hit the ball hard, however, the Tigers defense stepped up and made several highlight-reel plays.
With two outs in the bottom half of the fifth inning, Gators hitter Garrett Bright hit a line drive to right field that was slicing away from outfielder Rob Aunan. Aunan took off to his left, stretched out with his glove and snagged the ball before tumbling onto the damp grass for the third out.
A similar play happened in the first inning when Bright lined to left fielder Alan Pawlicki, who made an impressive catch. Again, in the bottom half of the sixth, the Tigers got another defensive gem as second baseman Robby Cormier handled a hard-hit line drive and turned two, doubling off the runner at first.
It was strong defensive plays like those that helped the Tigers (2-3 overall, 1-0 FVC) hang on to their first conference win.
"We were pretty pumped up and energized after those plays," Cormier said. "Aunan laying out for one, Alan caught one earlier in the game. The defense will always be there for us."
The solid defense has helped take some pressure off Birr and the rest of the pitching staff in the early portion of the season. Birr walked thre Saturday, but because of his defense, he still felt confident that he could challenge hitters when he was behind in the count and wasn't afraid to keep the ball in the strike zone.
"I didn't have to worry at all about missing on a pitch," Birr said. "I knew we had a shot because my defense was there.
"When they came up with big plays for me it felt like a huge burden was lifted and it proves that I can trust the guys behind me."
Badgley saw that trust in the form of Birr working fast and confident throughout.
"When your pitcher throws strikes and works fast, the guys are excited to play behind him because they know they're going to get some balls," Badgley said. "They're not just standing and waiting around."
The Tigers had the lead for most of the game, scoring two runs in the second, third and sixth innings and collected nine hits while the Gators (3-1, 0-1) were limited to only five hits.
South also committed four errors that led to four unearned runs. Gators pitcher Ryan Wilkening was charged with only two earned runs but was hit with the loss and left the game after six innings trailing 6-1.
"[Central] made some really nice plays out there," Gators coach Brian Bodga said. "Those plays were inning-changers and [Birr] threw strikes, but we hit it right at them all game."