Belle Vernon bests Carrick in 9 innings

| Saturday, May 3, 2014, 12:11 a.m.

Nolan Stulock pitched a gem and designated hitter Jordan Zilka broke a scoreless tie with a ninth-inning homer as Belle Vernon Area kept its playoff hopes alive with a 4-0 win Friday at Carrick.

BVA (10-4, 6-4) is a half-game behind Thomas Jefferson and South Park for second place in Section 4 AAA. The Leps play at TJ today to make up a 1-1 game that was suspended in the second inning due to rain.

Three Carrick (2-11, 2-8) pitchers befuddled BVA over the first eight innings, holding the Leps to three hits with eight strikeouts.

With one out in the ninth, Zilka launched his first high school homer to dead center. That opened the floodgates, as the Leps batted around and added three more runs in the inning.

“The three freshmen have been playing well and taking aggressive at-bats all year,” BVA coach Daryl Hixenbaugh said. “That's why they are in there. We were just waiting for an explosion like that from one of the three and Jordan gave it to us.”

Freshman Jake Callaway followed up Zilka's shot with a single up the middle and Dylan Pietrantoni walked before Stulock helped himself with a two-run bloop single to right.

Timmy Labuda and Evan Hannon both walked to load the bases before Niko Tasser drove an RBI single to center. Hannon and Tasser both had two hits for BVA.

“Carrick's guys were throwing well against us,” Hixenbaugh said. “They didn't throw the hardest, but they had a little bit of movement and they were keeping the ball down on us. We were just getting out in front for the most part until we finally solved them there in the ninth. It wasn't pretty, but it got the job done.”

Stulock dominated the Raiders with a nine-inning, four-hit shutout on 111 pitches. He seemed to get stronger as the game went on, recording six of his eight strikeouts in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. He completed the shutout with an eight-pitch ninth.

“He is unbelievable,” Hixenbaugh said. “He threw strikes, commanded the strike zone low and came up high every once in a while when he needed a check swing. He was throwing the ball harder in seventh, eighth and ninth than he was early in the game. We like where he is at and are expecting big things from him going forward.”

Stulock cruised for most of the game, but encountered trouble in the eighth. The Raiders would probably have won the game if not for a tremendous defensive play by centerfielder Cody Menges.

With one out, Jason Hennel drove a pitch off of the wall, but Menges picked up the ball and fired a strike to shortstop Jimmy Amoroso on the fly in time to get Hennel at second base. Bobby Orth followed up with a double to left that most likely would have scored Hennel.

“When he came off the field that inning I said, ‘Cody, if you weren't so dang ugly I would have come out there and kissed you in the middle of the field,'” Hixenbaugh said. “That was a big league throw and it saved us the game.”

Donnie Tasser is a freelance writer.

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