The sun was shining, the grass was green and the Rye Country Day baseball team was pounding Hopkins into submission at home April 1. Okay, so the “grass” is technically field turf, but that doesn’t take anything away from the Wildcats’ picture-perfect 12-2 opening day victory against the reigning Fairchester Athletic Association regular-season champs.
Rye Country Day received contributions from up and down the lineup, and forced Hopkins into committing five errors. The game ended via the 10-run mercy rule in the fifth when the Hopkins pitcher made an errant pick-off attempt to first. RCDS senior Alex Marinier, who had two hits and two RBIs on the day, came home from third as the ball sailed away from the first baseman.
“That is just how we play,” said head coach Ted Lawrence of his team’s ‘pedal to the metal’ instinct. “I am very aggressive and will always put pressure on the opponent’s defense to make plays.”
Junior catcher Billy Mills put the Wildcats up for good in the bottom of the second inning when he clubbed a 1-2 pitch deep to center with one out, the score tied and men on second and third. The ball bounced up and over the wall for a ground-rule double that gave RCDS 3-1 lead.
“That was clutch,” said senior captain and team ace Zack Tax, who played shortstop against Hopkins. “It was nail-biting because he went down to a 1-2 count, but we could tell he was right on the pitcher. Billy came through big for us; as the saying goes … right time, right place, right guy. He’s going to do really well in that leadoff spot and behind the plate this year.”
Lawrence noted that the coaches had been working with Mills in an effort to cut down his swing. The catcher naturally holds the bat at its end for a long swing, but Lawrence told him he needed to put the ball in play hard and recommended coming up on the bat at least two inches.
“I guess it helped,” said Lawrence. “He has that potential to hit well with power, he just needs to make that adjustment in his swing.”
The Wildcats broke a 4-2 game open in the fourth with six more runs. They increased the lead to 6-2 with RBI singles from Marinier and senior Clarke Ryan, and scored another when Brian Glazewski was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Senior Jeff Horowitz cleared the bases with two outs on – of all things – a slapper to the shortstop. Horowitz was safe at first on a wild throw, which allowed the first run to score. When the first basemen finally recovered, his throw home was too late. The catcher then went for Glazweski sliding into third, but that throw sailed into the outfield and the senior sped home.
“That really changed the momentum. Coach is really big on that,” said Tax. “When we score he wants us to score even more and take them completely out of it. Then he stresses that the defense go out there and put up a zero. When you can do that it’s almost impossible for an opponent to stand back up.”
Although Lawrence would have liked fewer walks, he was pleased with the performance of starting pitcher Grant Johnson. The senior gave up three hits and two runs in 3.2 innings, and struck out two. Sophomore Jeff Grasso finished the game without allowing a hit. Grasso also had a couple of hits from the plate.
Zack (with a K) Tax was impressed with the way his fellow pitchers tossed the ball, and then went on to host a clinic in Rye Country Day’s home game with Greens Farms Academy April 3. The electric-armed ace struck out 14 batters in a 6-1 Wildcat victory. His fourteenth and final K broke the all-time record for strikeouts in a career at Rye Country Day, passing Evan Oleson’s mark of 155.
Asked what the ultimate goal is this season, Tax simply said, “Twenty-five and oh.”