MIFFLINTOWN - Opening day for the Juniata baseball team finally came Wednesday, and an impressive pitching performance by the Indians' Chad Eberle coupled with an offensive explosion boosted the home team to a 13-0 season-opening victory over Tri-Valley League opponent Greenwood.
Eberle was unflappable on the mound despite the chilly conditions as he pounded the zone consistently with his fastball and mixed in an occasional hook that kept the Wildcats off balance.
"We did a lot of watching," Greenwood coach Mark Sherman said. "He (Eberle) was throwing a lot of first-pitch fastballs and getting ahead."
The scrappy right hander chiseled his way through Greenwood's first three hitters of the game, striking out two and inducing a pop up. Given the conditions, it looked as though a solid pitching performance and one or two runs could be the difference in the game.
The Wildcats, however, came out more aggressive in their half of the second stanza and Adam Harrison drew a lead-off walk and he quickly found himself at second base following a Mitch Taylor single - the two runners executed a double-steal that set the stage for the six hitter, who Eberle struck out. A walk by Greenwood's Josh Ferguson loaded the bases but Eberle squashed the rally as he struck out the next two hitters.
Juniata coach Nick Beward said Wednesday's performance by Eberle came as a bit of a surprise.
IF YOU GO
Juniata travels to East Juniata
Greenwood hosts Upper Dauphin Friday
"He couldn't throw a strike last night in the gymnasium - and then he comes out here and does that," Beward said. " I knew he had it in him."
The second inning Wildcat threat would be the last of the day for the visitors as Juniata took control in the home half of the frame. A leadoff triple by Ty Treaster spelled the beginning of the end for Greenwood as hits by Andrew Boyer, Eberle and Stephen Zearfaus contributed to the six-run inning. Austin Berry, Jon Ruble and Derek Snyder all drew walks to chip in toward the game-changing inning. A nice piece of hitting with runners in scoring position by Dylan Loudenslager also plated a run in the inning.
"It was overall a real team effort," Beward said. "We got off to a slow start in the first inning but we got it going."
The Indian rally forced a pitching change by the Wildcats, inducing an early exit for Taylor. The freshman was not originally slated to pitch, but arm soreness for Greenwood's top pitcher forced the late move.
"That's his (Taylor's) first start," Sherman said. "Our number one was going to throw but his arm was feeling sore during warmups so we gave Mitch the ball."
Harrison stepped in to relieve Taylor and pounded the zone, handing out just three free passes during his time on the mound and pitching to contact. The Wildcat defense was shaky at times, but Harrison battled.
"Adam's a good leader," Sherman said.
He reiterated that the defensive performance did not help the Wildcats' cause.
The Indians batted around once more in the home half of the third inning, plating six more runs on five hits, including a triple by Dakhota Sweitzer and a double by Ruble - putting the game out of reach. Three Wildcat errors in the fourth made the score 13-0.
Eberle picked up his 10th and 11th strikeouts on the day and put the Wildcats away in the fifth, securing the team's first victory of the year.
"The thing that I stressed that could hurt this baseball team is being young and getting behind early - they didn't let that happen tonight," Beward said. "Take nothing away from (Greenwood) - they have some talent and some good athletes over there."
Juniata (1-0, 1-0) and Greenwood (0-2, 0-2) will be back in action Friday. The Indians travel to East Juniata and Greenwood hosts Upper Dauphin.