It seems as though the longer the high school baseball season goes on, the more attached those words become to the tail end of West Holmes pitcher Kendrick Wagler’s name.
Wagler has been a rock on the mound for the Knights this season. He has been their ace, their numero uno, their go-to guy in crunch time, must-win games. He has come through admirably, throwing up plenty of goose eggs on his way to a fantastic campaign. It has gotten him a 2-6 record.
The Knights traveled to Minerva on Tuesday, May 8 in a battle to see who would advance to district play. Head coach Bill Pim again turned to Wagler in a must-win game. Wagler pitched a gem, allowing two runs.
“Kendrick gave us what Kendrick always gives us,” Pim said of Wagler. “He threw a great game, he didn’t walk any batters, he kept their hitters off-balance and he gave us every chance to win that game. You’d like to think that if you hold an opponent to two runs you have a pretty good chance to win a game. We just didn‘t give him any run support, and unfortunately it’s kind of been that way all season for Kendrick on the mound.”
The Knights ran into a buzz saw in the opposing pitcher with only three hits and fell 2-0.
Hard-luck loser was again attached to Wagler’s name.
Oddly enough the very term “hard-luck loser” doesn’t describe the outing of the pitcher, like most “loser” connotations do. Instead, it refers to a pitcher who threw his heart out only to be saddled with the loss for whatever reason.
This time around it was Connor Wright, who was simply dominant on the mound for the Lions. West Holmes managed just three hits against the wily Wright, who dominated from start to finish to send the Knights packing.
“That was a tough one for us,” Pim said. “Their kid had a pretty decent fastball, but what made him so tough to hit was that he threw a really good breaking ball, and he could throw it anywhere in the count for a strike.”
Minerva jumped out in front in the bottom of the first inning when Alex Kimble smoked a triple to the wall in right center to plate the game’s first run. The Lions would tack on a second tally in the third inning. A lead-off infield chopper single and Shane Walter’s bloop single to left center that barely ticked off the glove of shortstop Branden Bridenthal gave Minerva all of the breathing room it would need for Wright, who took the ball inning and inning and set down the Knights in quick fashion.
“We struck out 12 times, six of them looking,” Pim said of his Knights. “It‘s tough to generate any kind of offense when you don’t put the ball in play and make them make plays. Because we never got many kids on base, it made it very difficult for us to even attempt to play any kind of small ball through running or bunting. We just couldn’t get people on to have opportunities to even get big hits.”
The one inning West Holmes mounted a possible attack was the fifth when Kiowa Looney spanked a single and Mark Biltz followed with a nice bunt single, putting runners on first and second with one out. However, Wright once again proved he had the right stuff, bearing down and getting two key strikeouts to escape further damage.
Other than the one opportunity, it was an effort in futility for the Knights as they tried to solve Wright.
While the bats were silent for West Holmes, they were flashing their gloves and making plays behind Wagler.
“We made some really nice plays behind him defensively,” Pim said. “That was one of our better played games in the field.”
Down 2-0 in the fourth inning, West Holmes couldn’t afford to fall behind any further. An opening single saw the Lions advance the runner to third with two outs, and a liner to center looked like it might make it 3-0, but Shane Jones came charging in and made a sensational diving catch to end the inning.
In the sixth Looney ranged back down the right-field line on a shallow pop and made a nice running catch, whirling and firing to Wagler, who covered first to double up a runner and end that inning, the Knights turning another double play to aid Wagler on the mound.
Wagler allowed just seven hits, not walking a batter while striking out three. He certainly threw well enough to shake the “hard-luck” moniker, but on this night Minerva’s pitcher simply had the Wright stuff.