Westview baseball races out early, beats Bowmen on opening day
All Westview needs is a sliver of daylight and the Wildcats can pounce on a team at a moment's notice.
The margin for error against this Wildcat club is that slim. Its stacked one-through-nine lineup can magnify one forgivable preseason slip up and turn an expected tight contest into a rout quickly.
On opening day, in the bottom of the first inning against Sherwood, Westview senior Willie Weiss hit a high fly ball to right field that was dropped with two outs on the board. With the game knotted up at 0-0, the error seemed destined to be nothing more than a teachable moment for head coach Nate Hickok and his staff. But then Westview senior Ben Braukmann hit an RBI single up the middle to go up 1-0 and Mante Woods belted a two-run homer to straightaway center to give the Cats a 3-0 lead.
Westview used the created crevice and rolled, jumping out to a 15-0 lead at the end of five innings with Weiss dealing on the mound for a 15-3 win over the Bowmen at Westview High on March 16.
"Our lineup is dangerous," Weiss said. "There are no holes in our order. Every single kid on the team can hit the baseball. It was great to see us come out in our first game and pound the baseball around the yard. Sherwood is a great ball club and we put it to 'em."
The Bowmen were knocked on their heels by Westview's swells of two-out scores, but still showed signs of being a Three Rivers League contender.
Junior third baseman Tyler Hix made a great play in the fourth, robbing Weiss of an infield single with a hard-charging barehanded off-balance throw to Nic Harrison at first who flexibly stretched out to glove the heave for the bang-bang first out of the frame. Senior Hayden Gilbert went two-for-three including a single in the fourth that broke up Westview's no-hit bid. In the top of the seventh Gilbert legged out an infield single, hustling all the way despite being down 15-0. And the senior scampered to second on a ball in the dirt. Ryan Sandilands, with two outs, turned the tables a bit on the Wildcats, roping a two-run double to left to get Sherwood on the board to make it 15-2. And Lucas Hughes added to the total, slapping an opposite-field shot to right to make it 15-3.
"We definitely hung in there," Gilbert said. "I didn't see any head drops. We showed some mental toughness. We were still in it going into the seventh, down by 15. It shows we're together as a team. If we eliminate those early errors, we'll stay in a game like that. We have six or seven seniors in the lineup and playing regularly, so I think we'll be good and make a run."
Junior Anthony Garrett got the start for the Bowmen and threw three innings, striking out five. Hix threw a clean sixth inning, sitting down Westview's lineup in order. Still, Sherwood was undone by four errors early and Weiss' mastery on the mound, especially early in the Bowmen's at-bats.
"We have to jump on first pitch fastballs, you can't get down in the count with a pitcher like that," Gilbert said. "We just have to learn from it."
Ten of Westview's total runs came with two outs on the board as Sherwood was able to build an advantage in each of the five innings, but unable to punctuate the frame with a final putout to avoid further damage. Two of those two-out scores came from the southpaw slugging Woods who squared up a belt-high curveball from Garrett and flogged it over the deepest part of the park over the 370' fence in dead center for the two-run jack to give Westview a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first.
"The momentum definitely shifted that inning," Weiss said. "We just kept it the whole game and took advantage of it. Once we get the momentum, it's hard to get back."
With his reputation for clocking fastballs widely known around the state, Woods knew he was going to get an off-speed pitch from the right-handed Bowmen hurler. And when a curveball came over the middle half of the plate, Woods sat back and let it ride.
"My mom and my grandma tell me to swing hard every time, don't give anything up, don't cheat yourself," Woods said with a smile. "I didn't swing my absolute hardest on that, but I caught a piece of the ball and was pretty proud of my performance and how it turned out. It's my senior year, my last year. I just want to make an impact and do as much as I can. First at-bat, three pitches in and I hit a homer, it felt really good. I think it's a good start to the season and reflects how our season will go."
As Westview's unquestioned ace and leader of the pitching staff, Weiss said he's ready to shoulder the load and help carry the Wildcats deep into the 6A postseason. The University of Michigan signee looked like he was in postseason form already against Sherwood, throwing six determined innings, striking out 14 with no walks and just one hit allowed. Woods said Weiss was the "anchor" of Westview's success.
"My arm felt great, it's never been in this good of shape," Weiss said. "I've been throwing a long, good bullpen (practice session) every week. My coach and catcher (Carter Sakamoto) called some great pitches today and my defense played great. I knew I had a great defense behind me, so I wasn't worried about throwing the ball over the plate. If I put the ball in play, they got the job done."
Woods added a two-out, bases-clearing double in the fifth. Josh Moreno had a great day at the dish, going 4-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs scored. Senior catcher Carter Sakamoto went 3-for-3 with two RBIs and played great defense behind the dish catching for Weiss. Braukmann also went 3-for-3 with three singles and two RBIs. Freshman Mason Guerra made a big splash in his debut as a Wildcat, smashing a two-out, two-run double off the left field fence in the third that gave Westview an 8-0 lead. Senior Tyler Antich added two more hits including an RBI single in the fifth that followed Woods' bases-loaded double.
Westview was razor sharp in a mid-March game played in low 50-degree cloudy weather against a highly respected Bowmen club that's enjoyed proud success over the past decade or so. Weiss attributed the fast start to Westview's work both on the grass field when the weather permitted as well as the turf football field not 50 yards from the park and in the batting cages. The Wildcats have ruled the Metro League the past decade or more, winning or splitting the past seven conference crowns. Westview has the most seasoned roster in Metro with Weiss, Woods and Sakamoto at the helm as captains. All three are future collegiate players. And there's talent up and down the roster with Moreno, Guerra, Braukmann, Antich, Jacob Cox, Bo Willoughby, Paysen Manning and many others hoping to pitch into what should be another huge season under new head coach Matt Bailie.
"We've had a lot of useful practices that have got us better," Weiss. "I think we can definitely be a powerhouse in the state this year. We have 14 seniors, so hopefully, we can make a good run and have a successful year. Hopefully, we can get the (state championship) ring and bring it back to Westview."