When the season began, the Ottumwa High School baseball team was long on the number of pitchers but short on experience.
The experience is coming along, and the efficiency is following suit.
Juniors Jackson Grooms and Brody Evans combined for eight shutout innings of three-hit baseball and struck out 12 as the Bulldogs took 4-1 and 6-1 victories over Des Moines Hoover to start CIML Metro play Monday at Legion Memorial Field.
“I think we’ve all done a pretty good job of pushing each other as the games go on,” said Grooms, who allowed two hits and struck out seven in the opener. “My plan is always to get ahead of hitters. I kept them off balance with a lot of breaking balls tonight.”
“I think we’ve always had the potential to pitch well, and it really only took us one loss (to Oskaloosa) to start doing that,” Evans said. “Overall, our pitching has been pretty decent.”
Neither is a power pitcher, but Grooms and Evans took advantage of generous corners on both sides of the plate. They worked ahead in the count most of the night, and got several first-pitch swings from the Hoover hitters.
“The corners helped a lot because we were able to hit our spots,” Evans said. “He was giving a little more corner maybe than normal.”
Ottumwa’s (4-1, 2-0 Metro) offense was inconsistent, but it was timely. In the first game, a three-run third inning broke open the contest. Jesus Jaime and Trae Swartz had consecutive run-scoring hits with two outs to open a 4-0 lead.
Hoover (0-4, 0-2), which had been outscored 43-0 to start the season, scored its first run of the season in the seventh on a RBI ground out by D’ontrez Robinson.
The second game was more of a pitching duel between Evans and Hoover’s Morgan Judge. The Bulldogs scored twice in the opening inning on a two-run double by Logan Chickering, but offense was scarce for several innings. Evans retired the first 11 he faced before a walk with two outs in the fourth. He then allowed a single before coach John Jaeger pulled him after just 33 pitches, 24 for strikes.
“I think you’re always looking to be as efficient as you can be when you know you’re on a limit,” Evans said. “It’s better when you can still get the job done as well.”
Both starters went four innings in their respective games, and Jaeger hopes to use them again this week with doubleheaders against Marshalltown (Wednesday) and Ankeny Centennial (Friday) looming.
“We came into the season knowing we were going to utilize a lot of guys, and we’re getting that experience. We’re allowing these guys to grow,” Jaeger said. “I really like the fight on the mound that our pitchers are showing.”
The Bulldogs pulled away late in the second game, with a run in the fifth and then three in the sixth. None of those runs scored on a ball that left in the infield.
“We were about one or two swings from breaking open each game, but we were able to get the guys in,” Jaeger said. “Still, that’s something else that just comes with experience. The more games they play, those things will come around.”
Hoover’s lone run in the second game came when Jerad Fischer crossed the plate ahead of a rundown between first and second for the final out of the game.
Judge was a victim of his defense, which committed five errors. He struck out seven and walked two in 5 2/3 innings.
Chad Drury can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @ChadDrury