Kingsmen pitching keeps St. Helens' baseball offense mostly grounded as NWOC series begins

PMG PHOTO: JIM BESEDA - Freshman Trevor Fitzgerald sends a pitch to the plate during the St. Helens Lions' Northwest Oregon Conference opener on Tuesday at Putnam.Some facts and figures in brief about St. Helens' first two Northwest Oregon Conference games of 2019:

The Lions totaled seven hits. But they also made 11 errors and scored only one run. The result? Two eight-run losses.

Which was not necessarily a major surprise given that the opponent, Putnam, was able to send two strong pitchers to the mound against the Lions, and because the Kingsmen are now 7-3 going into the third and final game of the series. Putnam is slated to play host to St. Helens at 5 p.m. Friday.

Only one Putnam run was earned in the Kingsmen's 9-1 Wednesday victory at St. Helens — which came one day after Putnam beat the visiting Lions 8-0.

In Tuesday's game, Putnam pitcher Nick Geertsen kept St. Helens' batters guessing — and the Lions guessed wrong more often than they guessed right. Geertsen tossed a three-hit shutout with no walks and seven strikeouts.

Sam Sholty's two-run single helped to highlight an eight-run first inning for Putnam, and Geertsen took care of the rest. The junior right-hander recorded his second shutout and third complete game in four starts this season.

"Nick Geertsen was awesome," Putnam coach Chad McGowan said. "He got them out on their front foot a little bit. He's throwing all three pitches — fastball, curveball, and change — for strikes, and his change has been a great out pitch for him. Just a nasty pitch right now."

In four starts, Geertsen has thrown 26 innings and allowed five runs (four earned) on 23 hits, with three walks and 29 strikeouts. He is 4-0 with a 1.08 ERA. Against the Lions, Geertsen was the picture of efficiency. He threw 77 pitches, 55 for strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of the 24 batters he faced.

"All my off-speed stuff was working," Geertsen said. "I was working a lot of them early in counts with my off-speed pitches and then kept them guessing the whole time, basically."

Geertsen surrendered a double to St. Helens' Jacobi Allen to start the game, but then retired the next 14 batters before Trevor Fitzgerald singled up the middle with two out in the fifth inning. Kaleb Beatty had St. Helens' only other and third hit — a two-out single to right in the seventh.

"I was in a good rhythm," Geertsen said. "I know the only kid I was really thinking about was the leadoff hitter (Allen) because he hit two solid balls against me. Other than that, I felt comfortable throwing to all their hitters and just was around the plate. And starting off ahead in counts helped a lot."

Of the three St. Helens batters to reach base, two got stranded in scoring position — Allen at third base in the first and Chris Beatty at second base in the seventh.

"Geertsen is really good," Lions coach Jeff Timmons said. "He's probably one of the better kids in our league. He was an all-leaguer last year and looks to be a first-team kid again this year.

"Later in the game, we started sitting a little bit better on some of his breaking stuff, but he got a lot of it across for strikes. We hit five or six balls really hard, too, but right to people. And the ball always takes a good hop when you're playing on turf."

The Kingsmen gave Geertsen all the run support he needed in the first inning, when they sent 14 batters to the plate and scored their eight runs on three hits, six walks and two St. Helens errors. Lions starter Kaleb Edwards, a sophomore right-hander, struggled to find the strike zone and faced 10 batters without recording an out before handing the ball off to Fitzgerald.

"Kaleb is better than that," Timmons said. "It's hard for me to say what was happening. It's not like him to miss that badly. Sometimes, your guy just doesn't have it in the first inning, and then we didn't make a couple of plays behind him and … yeah, it was a rough way to start.

"I really don't have a No. 1 starter this year, but we have three kids that can throw pretty darn well. Kaleb has been the best so far for us this year, but he kind of got thrown to the wolves today because one of the other starters was out with the flu and the other one missed practice Monday, so I wasn't going to put him in."

At one point, Timmons wondered if Putnam's new artificial turf mound may have added to Edwards' discomfort as only 12 of his 35 pitches were for strikes.

"Our whole field is grass and dirt, and it's a different ball game on grass and dirt," Timmons said. "Sometimes it can get in our head a little bit, but … Kaleb's still an athlete, and he should be able to throw strikes.

"But, also, we didn't make plays, and that makes it hard when you throw a good pitch and get a ground ball and the defense doesn't make the play. That's really rough, especially when you're flailing like we were there at the beginning."

Fitzgerald, a freshman right-hander, allowed one inherited runner to score on a bases-loaded walk in the first, but then settled into a groove over 4 2/3 innings, checking the Kingsmen on three hits with one walk and three strikeouts. 

Garrett Harris worked the final 1 1/3 innings, retiring the four Putnam batters he faced.

"We played a heck of a baseball game for six innings," Timmons said. "I told the kids after the first inning, 'Hey, let's turn this into a six-inning game and let's see what we can do to give ourselves some confidence going forward.'"

And the Lions were much more competitive, longer, on Wednesday. They trialed only 3-1 through four innings. Allen, Harris, Beatty and Ashton Smith each had a hit, and starting pitcher Jacob Klein gave up just five hits and three walks, with five strikeouts, in six innings.

But Putnam's No. 2 hurler, Jayden Junta, was tough to crack as well. He allowed only four hits and didn't walk a Lion. He also finished with nine strikeouts, throwing 62 of his 80 pitches for strikes, with 18 first-pitch strikes to the 26 batters who went up against him.

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