July 24, 2016

Mostly cloudy

High school baseball: ‘Whitty’ in top form

BRUNSWICK — The young man the Medina baseball team calls “Whitty” doesn’t look for pity because his fastball isn’t overpowering.

Matt Whittaker instead embraces the slow-it-by-’em approach.

The senior had the most impressive performance of his career Thursday, tossing a seven-hit shutout and working out of multiple jams to lead the Bees to a 6-0 win over archrival Brunswick in Northeast Ohio Conference River Division play.

“It feels great, man. We really needed this at this time in the season,” Whittaker said. “We’re on a (four-game winning) streak right now and it feels great to keep it going. It really does, especially beating Brunswick.”

Whittaker (3-1) knows he’s the complement to hard-throwing ace Austin Havekost, who beat the Blue Devils 4-3 Wednesday. Whittaker’s fastball hovers around 80 mph, but he remains effective when his 12-6 curveball finds the strike zone.

That was the case Thursday, as five of his seven strikeouts came on the slow bender that entices batters to swing for the fences. Whittaker had a strikeout in six different innings while leaving the bases loaded twice.

Whittaker’s performance was made sweeter by keeping the Bees (7-8, 4-2) one game back of Mentor in the division standings and sending the struggling Blue Devils (5-7, 1-5) to their fifth straight loss.

The three teams shared the division title with Strongsville last season.

“My off-speed really worked,” Whittaker said. “They were really sitting fastball because of (Havekost on Wednesday), so my off-speed helped a lot. That’s one of the best things about being a lefty is that you can do that. It’s awesome.”

“His curveball was dirty,” Bees second baseman Sam Hardy added. “It got them to chase.”

Medina scored two runs apiece in the second, fifth and six innings while finishing with 12 hits and six stolen bases. Hardy, center fielder Eric Rapenchuk, first baseman Havekost and designated hitter Parker Fronk each had two hits, while shortstop Brian Letts (single, 2 stolen bases), Whittaker (double) and third baseman Colin Minor (single, 2 RBIs) also contributed.

The Bees took the lead for good with a Minor RBI single and Havekost RBI double in the second off Alex Creeger (0-1). They scored in the fifth on a Letts RBI single and Minor safety squeeze, then added insurance in the seventh off reliever Gary Clift Jr. via RBI singles from Hardy and Fronk.

Medina put the ball in play on the first or second pitch in 20 of its 37 plate appearances.

“We scored six runs and they didn’t score any,” Hardy said. “We were hitting his fastball and taking the curveball.”

Brunswick never found momentum offensively and lowered its runs-per-game average to 3.8, on pace to be its lowest since 1973. The Blue Devils also committed three errors for the third straight game and had just two runners reach scoring position through four innings.

They finally found some life by loading the bases in the fifth on Todd Andrews and Ryan Kuntz singles and a Chaz Bova hit by pitch, but came away with nothing after Whittaker struck out Jake Williams.

The theme was similar in the seventh, as Brunswick loaded the bases again only to have Whittaker get out of another jam.

“It was a bunch of errors, and we didn’t make the plays we needed to,” Andrews said. “We need to be aggressive. We were looking at one go by and then we’d always swing at the off-speed.”

Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.

Albert Grindle About Albert Grindle

Albert Grindle is a sportswriter for the Gazette. He can be reached at 330-721-4043 or agrindle@medina-gazette.com.