Photo: Cole Bartels before Wednesday game.
The spectators came early to find good seats on a brisk sunny Wednesday morning game at Belmont’s Branden Grant Field, as nearly a dozen major league scouts turned up with radar guns and reporters for the daily newspapers were out in force.
The game was a rare meeting around these parts of a pair of top-ranked pitching prospects; Wilmington’s hard-throwing Jackson Gillis and Belmont’s talented Cole Bartels battling it out on the diamond.
And the two – each signed last season with Division 1 schools: Gillis to Vanderbilt and Penn State for Bartels – did not disappoint as they each threw a gem of a game in this classic pitcher’s duel, combining for a total of more than two dozen strikeouts while giving up a single hit each over five innings.
While the pro scouts had come out to see the 6’3″, 225 pound Gillis who is expected to be an early-round selection in the major league draft, the spring recess matinee was Bartels’ day in the spotlight as the senior dominated the Wildcats from start to finish as the Middlesex League all-star registering a 15 strikeout, 107 pitch masterpiece in the Marauders’ 2-0 victory.
“All my pitches were working today,” said Bartels, who is coming off a 13 strikeout performance in the season’s opener against Concord-Carlisle.
While starting off most batters with fast balls, Bartels was getting them out with his breaking ball.
“My ‘out’ pitch was my slider,” said Bartels of the pitch that tails and drops away from right hand batters.
A deeper look at the stats shows just how dominate Bartels was Wednesday: only seven times did Wilmington players hit the ball where a field player was called to make a play while three times – in the second, fourth and sixth innings – Bartels struck out the side. Of the 15 strikeouts, five times the batter took the pitch looking and only twice did he throw a strikeout on a full-count as his control and location was outstanding all game long.
While he was anticipating his third matchup with Gillis – he beat the Wildcat’s leading pitcher twice last season – “but it was no different than any other game for me,” said Bartels said. “I got a lot more confident as the game went on, I felt I got stronger,” Bartels said while praising his battery partner, catcher Cal Christofori, for being a rock behind the plate.
While Bartels will be remembered as having the top pitching day, Gillis was no slouch Wednesday. In his first pitch sequence against Trevor Kelly, Belmont’s leadoff hitter, Gillis threw three fastballs that hit 91 mph on the radar (the third pitch was fouled off) before throwing a curve ball recorded in the mid-80s for the strikeout.
Gillis struck out eight of the first nine outs in the game. But one of his victims, DH Ryan Noone, reached first on a third-strike passed ball in the second inning. Noone took second on a wild pitch and scored on second base Noah Riley’s shot up the middle to give Belmont an early 1-0 lead.
With a run in his pocket, Bartels nearly gave it back in the top of the fourth when second base Brian Cavanaugh hit an opposite-field double down the line. But Cavanaugh was stranded on second as Bartels struck out the side.
Belmont put up some insurance on the board by scrapping together a run playing small ball against Gillis’ replacement, Chris Grecco, in the sixth. Bartels started the inning with a single and his batterymate Cal Christofori reached on an error.
After a Dennis Crowley sacrifice put the pair in scoring position, Noone attempted the squeeze with Bartel but the pitcher was caught at the plate. But in an attempt to gun down Noone at second, Christofori never stopped running and beat the return throw.
Belmont now stands at 4-0 and is atop the Middlesex League’s Liberty Division.
“It’s our best start of a season for a while,” said Belmont’s long-time manager, Joe Brown.