High School Baseball
Vikings aced by Avidano, Panthers
by Chris Goltermann
Greg Hamilton was gracious enough to verbally tip his cap to Starr’s Mill 6-foot-7 left-hander Ryan Avidano, who easily earned the No. 1 star in a 6-2 victory over his Northgate baseball lineup Wednesday at home.
In front of more radar guns than a speed trap, Avidano struck out 11 Vikings over six shutout innings while yielding four singles. The University of Georgia signee — who may not even reach Athens after performing for at least a half-dozen scouts in attendance — also belted a pair of homers to account for 5 RBIs in the Region 4-AAAAA victory.
But the Northgate head baseball coach also knew his team hadn’t made it as tough on Avidano as possible.
“He’s a very good pitcher. I bet if you ask him, he’s pitched better games,” Hamilton said of Avidano, who threw 60 of his 94 pitches for strikes. “He threw the ball well today and had good control. But we struck out way too many times. We didn’t hit the ball and we walked to many people. They got six runs and four of them were from walks.”
The win moved Starr’s Mill to 6-2 overall while jumping out in 4-AAAAA play at 1-0. Northgate fell to 2-6 overall and 1-1 in region play.
Despite Avidano’s two homers, Northgate managed to outhit Starr’s Mill by a 5-4 margin. But the Vikings never were able to match their opponents at the plate. James Poropatic’s seventh-inning RBI double was the team’s only extra-base hit as Northgate rallied for both of its runs against Panthers reliever Adam Goodman.
By then, Avidano had retired six of his last eight batters via strikes. The Panthers senior surrendered two walks and four singles, two of which never left the infield.
Northgate had its chances, down 3-0 following a three-run blast by Avidano in the first inning.
With one out in the third, Blake Helton singled up the middle and one batter later, Andrew Burden pulled a pitch through the right side of the infield to put two runners on before the Starr’s Mill ace got out of the jam with a strikeout.
The following inning, Viking senior Armond Upshaw put down a perfect bunt that rolled dead near the third-base line and one batter later, Connor Wilson drew a one-out walk.
Again, Avidano fought back for back-to-back strikeouts to end the inning while also starting a string of six consecutive that carried into the bottom of the sixth.
Northgate starting pitcher Blake Whitney struck out five in four innings but was unable to carry his command effectively, especially early. Of his eight walks, three came in the first including a leadoff pass to Patrick Mullins.
With Whitney’s pitches sailing up in the zone, Avidano made him pay following the second pass of the inning, turning on a 2-2 pitch and sending a ball well over the right-field wall that came a hop away from clearing a final fence onto Fischer Road.
The Viking right-hander settled in after that, holding the Panthers hitless for the next three innings while retiring eight of nine batters before again getting into trouble in the fourth with three consecutive walks to load the bases. Whitney was able to get Adam Weisheit to fly out to right, however, to end a 97-pitch outing.
“I thought he lacked a little confidence at the start, but he settled in,” Hamilton said. “Again, 97 pitches in four innings is too much.”
A 3-0 lead stood until the top of the fifth when Starr’s Mill caught Northgate on a delayed double-steal that allowed Goodman to beat a throw home from third after teammate Connor Dillon took off for second.
“That’s my fault,” Hamilton said. “They had a delay on it and I called the wrong defense.”
Wilson allowed two earned runs in relief on three hits while striking out three after coming on for Whitney. His only major mistake came on Avidano’s final home run in the seventh after Goodman was plunked with one out.
Despite the loss, Hamilton can see a lineup that lost a solid group of seniors to graduation continuing to make progress. But the schedule, which next includes a trip to Whitewater on Friday, isn’t allowing room for patience.
“We’ve just got to keep working and get better,” Hamilton said. “We’re not there. We’re close. It doesn’t get any easier for us.”
Panthers 6, Vikings 2
Starr’s Mill 300 010 2 — 6 4 0
Northgate 000 000 2 — 4 5 0
WP — Avidano
LP — Whitney
HR — Avidano 2