Surprise starter Booher carries TJ past West Mifflin
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Colton Booher hasn't started a game in more than a year for Thomas Jefferson. There was probably a pretty good reason for that considering how the senior righty fared in relief over the first month of the season.
In five innings over four appearances, Booher had an ERA of 12.60 and allowed the opposition to hit .462.
So when Thomas Jefferson hosted rival West Mifflin on Thursday with the winner ending the first half of the Section 4-AAA schedule in second place, TJ coach Kevin Gryboski decided to “shake things up a little bit” and start Booher.
In the end, it was West Mifflin that was left visibly shaken.
Booher baffled West Mifflin as he tossed a complete-game three-hitter while striking out eight in a 5-3 win. Booher's only bad pitch was a two-out, two-strike three-run homer by A.J. Olasz in the seventh that ruined the shutout.
“He went right at the hitters and threw first-pitch strikes,” Gryboski said. “Working ahead and first-pitch strikes is the key to baseball, and he did that. He commanded the fastball and had just that one bad pitch. It was just a great performance.”
Booher allowed only an Olasz single in the second and a walk in the sixth as he retired six in a row and nine in a row during two stretches of the game.
“The umpire was giving me a little bit off the outside corner, and I was trying to hit that,” Booher said. “I was just using a fastball. I mixed in a curveball every once in a while, but it was mainly fastball.”
Olasz picked up the loss as he went five innings, struck out seven and allowed four unearned runs. All five of TJ's runs were unearned, which concerned West Mifflin coach Jeff Kuzma — but not as much as his team's continued lack of hitting.
“We have struggled with hitting for the majority of the year,” Kuzma said. “We have to get more consistent at the plate. You cannot continue to get good pitching performances and not give them any run support. Right now we just stink at hitting.”
Over the past three games, West Mifflin (7-5, 3-3) is averaging six hits and a little more than two runs.
“It is very simple: When you don't hit or make the routine plays, you don't win ballgames,” Kuzma said.
While West Mifflin made three errors, TJ (8-4, 4-2) made all the routine plays and some difficult ones as well — including a diving catch by Eric Coholan in right field early in the game.
“We struggled early in the year with errors, but the last two games we stepped up, and we fielded the ball and made the plays,” Gryboski said. “We took advantage of a couple of their mistakes and got the runs across.”
With the game scoreless in the fifth, Olasz was his own worst enemy. He walked the first two hitters of the inning then made a fielding error to load the bases with nobody out.
Olasz battled back and appeared to get out of the inning when he struck out a pair then got Benack to bounce to third baseman Zach Fodor. But Fodor misplayed the ball to give TJ a 1-0 lead.
“In a game that is a pitchers' duel — and you can see that from the second inning on — you have to make the routine plays,” Kuzma said. “I told them in the third inning that who makes the most routine plays will win the game.”
The flood gates opened after that. Olasz walked Joe McHugh to force in a run before allowing a bases-loaded single to Booher to make it 4-0.
“I was just trying to put the ball in play and find a hole,” Booher said. “He threw a curve but missed both times. I was just trying to put some metal on the ball.”
It was more than enough offense for the Jaguars, who won for the sixth time in their past seven games.
“We played well,” Gryboski said.
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