The Western Hills Wolverines are coming along like a well-coached, talented baseball team should.
That was evident on Wednesday as Coach Seth Knight’s Wolverines improved to 8-4 with a 6-0 victory over the Frankfort High Panthers at WHHS.
Western Hills sophomore starting pitcher Zack Barker (five innings) teamed with relief pitchers Kyle Fisher (one inning) and Dylan Manley (one inning) to one-hit the Panthers.
The Wolverines’ pitchers were supported with excellent defense behind them, and the WHHS offense came through with nine hits in a steady, efficient performance.
Western Hills put the Panthers on their heels with a three-run first inning and then made pitching and defense hold up to keep Frankfort at bay.
“Oh, it’s ridiculous,” said WHHS senior shortstop Ryan Barrass when asked how much the Wolverines have improved since a shutout loss to Owen County in their season opener. “We’ve improved by leaps and bounds.
“At the beginning of the season we had a lot of new guys learning the system,” added Barrass, who led the Western Hills offense Wednesday with a triple and two singles. “We were a work in progress, trying to see what’s best. We’ve just continued to get better since that first game, and it’s starting to show.”
Knight takes only a slightly more cautious tone.
“We have progressed,” Knight said. “That first game we were just getting guys experience, getting them to play hard and play the game the right way all the time. That’s a chore when you’re sophomore heavy. You need to get leadership out of your seniors, and that’s starting to come.”
And Knight says Barrass is one of the key senior leaders for his team.
“Ryan is a senior leader that we look to give us that intensity, and to give us big hits like he came up with today,” Knight said. “He bats in the three hole, he’s one or two on the mound, and he’s our shortstop, so his leadership is very important.”
Western Hills also has improved on the mound. Barker did not give up a hit in five innings of work against Frankfort, though Barker said he did not have particularly good stuff.
“I didn’t think I did that good,” Barker said. “I didn’t have any command. I only threw fast balls ... no curve balls, no off speed.”
“I’m shocked that we did not put the bat on the ball today after the way we’ve been hitting the ball this week in practice,” said Frankfort coach Anthony Russell, whose team finally mustered a sixth-inning single from McKinley Stonewall. “I give the kid (Barker) credit. He threw strikes. But there’s no way in the world that we should not have hit that pitching. It seemed like today the ball was in the mitt before we ever swung the bat.”
“Zack didn’t have his best stuff today, but he battled and competed,” Knight said. “He was close enough to the strike zone to get them to chase stuff, so it worked out.”
Knight said he did not seriously consider allowing Barker to pitch beyond the fifth inning to pursue a potential no hitter. Barker struck out 10, walked three and threw 74 pitches in his five innings of work.
“We’re pretty big on pitch counts, especially with the weather being colder today,” Knight said. “No-hitters are great, but it’s very rare when we have a pitcher go seven innings this early in the season. Later on, when the weather is warmer and the arms stronger, we’ll see.”
“It wasn’t a big deal to me,” Barker said. “He’s the coach.”
Added Knight: “I asked him (Barker) if he was mad at me for taking him out, and he said, ‘No, not really coach.’ He’s a good kid.”
Barrass said the Wolverines always have confidence in Barker.
“He always pitches well,” Barrass said of Barker. “When he comes out (to pitch) we know we’re going to have a good game on our hands. He has good location on his pitches and good off speed, so we always have confidence in him.”
Freshman Jeffrey Quire started on the mound for the Panthers Wednesday and deserved better. The FHS defense committed five errors behind him.
After their three-run, three-hit splurge in the first inning, the Wolverines pecked away for one run in the third inning and one in the fourth and then scored their final run off Frankfort relief pitcher Ben Griffin in the sixth.
Barker and Manley added two singles each for the winners, and Austin Wiard and Kyle Stevens had one single each.
Frankfort, 6-6, plays Berea tonight at 8 in the All A Regional at Lexington Christian Academy, while Western Hills plays at East Jessamine on Friday and hosts Franklin County on Monday.