Clackamas downs Central Catholic 6-1, caps three-game series sweep
Clackamas starting pitcher Nick Holm didn't exactly "pound" the strike zone Friday against Central Catholic.
The freshman right-hander nibbled at it.
Holm checked Central Catholic on five hits with one walk and one strikeout in 5 2/3 innings, leading the Cavaliers to a 6-1 victory at Walker Stadium and a sweep of their three-game Mt. Hood Conference series with the Rams.
Senior closer Grant Schoen got the final four outs with four strikeouts as the league-leading Cavaliers (17-6, 13-2 Mt. Hood) maintained a one-game lead over Barlow with two games remaining.
"That's a huge sweep for us," Clackamas coach John Arntson said. "We've dealt with a lot of adversity this year, and after losing two of three to Barlow, we could have gone one way or the other.
"The kids got together and got tight and played really well against Sandy, and I thought this was the best series we've played all year. I think we're playing our best baseball at the right time."
Tied at 1-1, Clackamas scored the go-ahead run in the fourth inning when Holm drew a leadoff walk from Central Catholic starter Christian Cooney and courtesy runner Jeff Nelson came home on a bases-loaded wild pitch.
Jackson Jaha's two-run single punctuated a fourth-run sixth inning that helped break the game open, but the bigger story up to that point was Holm and how he stymied the Rams without being overpowering.
Central Catholic got to Holm in the second inning when three of the first four batters had hits, including Jackson Elder's RBI-single that scored Luke Farah and tied the game at 1-1. But the Rams failed to do additional damage after they had one baserunner caught off third base on a bouncer back to the mound, and Holm picked off another runner at first base.
Holm surrendered a one-out single to Cooney in the third inning and then retired the next eight Central Catholic batters in order on a groundout, a pop out, two fly outs, a line out, another groundout, a strikeout, and a fly out before Cooney got another single leading off the sixth.
He issued his one walk of the game to Patrick Muskat with one out in the sixth and then retired Farah, the Rams' clean-up hitter, on a foul pop up near first before handing the ball over to Schoen to finish out the game.
"I thought I threw pretty well, hitting spots, mixing up locations," said Holm, who relied mostly on three pitches — fastball, curveball, and change-up. "I thought the change-up was actually a big difference-maker in this one because it's such a different speed than the fastball and definitely different than the curveball.
"I really had to keep the ball out of the middle of the plate and low, and I mostly tried to stay away, too, looking to get pop-ups and weak contact to the left side."
Holm threw a total of 76 pitches, including 52 for strikes. And of the 22 batters he faced, he threw first-pitch strikes to 14.
"The kid knows how to pitch," Arntson said. "He changes his speeds very well and he works both sides of the plate, which is huge.
"We sat down before the game and I told him, 'Hey, the plate is 17 inches, but you can't use those 10 inches inside. You've got to stay outside.' He's like, 'I've gotchya.' He's just got great composure for a freshman."
Clackamas planned to use Holm as a spot reliever when the season started, but those plans changed when senior starter Jeff Nelson, the team's ace, sustained a partial tear to the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow during the Cavaliers' four-game trip to Arizona over spring break.
Nelson's injured had a domino effect on the rotation with Nick Vaughn moving up to the No. 1 slot, Kaiden Miller taking over as the No. 2 starter, and either Holm or Jaha in the No. 3 spot.
Friday marked Holm's third starting assignment in the last nine games and his seventh mound appearance overall.
"Nick has been throwing well, so we're just kind of riding him right now," Arntson said. "He doesn't throw with tremendous velocity, but he hits his spots really, really well.
"From day one when he came into pitch, I said, 'Man, this kid has great command of his pitches.' And not just for a freshman. For anybody."
He certainly had Central Catholic's number for most of Friday.
"Baseball happened today and he (Holm) did a great job of mixing in two pitches," Rams coach Brian Grant said. "When you throw strikes and the defense plays really well behind you, that's just it.
"Sometimes you hit the ball on the screws and it finds a glove. Sometimes you hit a bleeder and it finds a hole. I think that was a little how that first half of the game went is they found a couple of holes and we hit a couple of balls on the screws right at guys. That's just baseball."
The Rams (14-9, 11-4) were in first place with a one-game lead over Clackamas when the series with the Cavaliers started, but they lost Tuesday's opener 4-3 at Concordia University, and then fell 6-2 Thursday at Clackamas.
Friday's loss was Central's fourth in a row and dropped the Rams into third place, two games behind Clackamas and one behind Barlow.
"We definitely didn't bring what we're capable of bringing," Grant said. "The scores are the scores, and, honestly, I could care less about the scores. I only care about how we play and the intent with which we play.
"I just didn't think we brought our best and you can't do that against a quality opponent like Clackamas, a team that's used to winning, a team that knows how to go out and get it done, and a team that knows how to play in tight games."
The Cavaliers have two league games left against Centennial — Tuesday at Centennial and Friday at home — and are in a position to clinch their fourth consecutive Mt. Hood Conference title and third consecutive outright league championship, given they don't fall flat against the Eagles (14-10, 8-7).
Central Catholic closes league play with a road game Tuesday at Reynolds and a home game Friday against Reynolds at Walker Stadium.
"The only thing we can focus on right now is how we respond next week against Reynolds," Grant said. "If we can turn this thing around and just play good, sound baseball the way we're capable of playing, then at least that gives us a better feeling going toward the playoffs."