UTICA — It was quite a jam for Jarrett Hill to make his 2023 debut for the Utica baseball team on Monday, but it proved to be no sweat for the junior right-hander.
Hill induced a groundball to sophomore first baseman Ryan Bigler to strand the bases loaded in the second inning before he threw a scoreless third. He was one of three Utica pitchers to keep visiting Mount Gilead off the scoreboard in an 11-1 season-opening victory.
“I usually like it. When I was younger, I usually came in in that spot,” Hill said. “You just have to dial in, and you have the team behind you.”
While the Utica offense piled up 12 hits in five innings, a total of four Utica pitchers were just as impressive with sophomore right-hander Connor Garee throwing a scoreless first inning and freshman left-hander Braxton Fisher throwing the final two. In between, after senior Jonny Martinez doubled to center to drive in Mount Gilead’s only run off junior right-hander Connor Staugh, Hill relieved and got four outs.
Utica has several experienced arms, including juniors Roman Gamble and Gavin Chinn, but new veteran coach Jack Carney-DeBord, who most recently spent six seasons assisting at Lakewood, saw his depth shine in the opener. He had a couple more pitchers scheduled to throw had his offense not scored the final three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning.
“We were just by committee. We had them all lined up and they knew, so they didn’t have to wait for me to raise my hand,” Carney-DeBord said. “We have done that in a couple scrimmages because all of those kids need experience. They can throw some innings.”
Utica is right back at it visiting Fredericktown on Tuesday and Loudonville on Thursday. A trip south to play Pleasure Ridge Park in Louisville, Kentucky, follows Saturday.
“There are going to be a lot of games, and it’s too early to be throwing a lot of pitches,” added Carney-DeBord, who replaced Michael Sandman, who departed for New Albany. “It was awesome. They threw the ball, and kids like to catch it.”
Hill escaping the jam squelched Mount Gilead’s shot of momentum. Martinez’s two-out hit to deep center scored junior Mason Barnum and answered Utica’s two first-inning runs.
Utica’s pitching staff struck out five and walked just one. Freshmen Cole Fricke and Gage Baker added a single apiece for Mount Gilead.
“I’m mad we lost, but we had bases loaded and runners at second and third. We missed those key hits,” said Mount Gilead coach Mark Kennon, who had a chance to catch up with familiar faces. He is a 1991 Utica graduate.
“We were right there,” Kennon added. “When we have runners on, we need those key base hits, and we just didn’t get them.”
Like on the mound, the Utica offense showed impressive depth as every player scored a run and seven had an RBI. Gamble opened the game with a bunt and scored on junior Isaak Wogan’s RBI single. Wogan later scored on a wild pitch.
Sophomore Gavin Tussey singled and scored on junior Chase Bennett’s sacrifice fly in the second inning before Gamble blooped a double down the left-field line to score Utica’s fourth run. Gamble’s third hit was a double to deep right, following sophomore Aidyn Burgess’ two-run single in the fifth.
“I like the leadoff position because I have the capability to get on base and that sets the tone for the team,” Gamble said. “Everybody feeds off that energy.”
Utica stole five bases and took advantage of five Mount Gilead errors. The defense behind sophomore Joey Baldwin and junior Hayden Krinn could never relax.
“Our kids threw strikes, and we just have to make plays behind them,” said Kennon, whose team begins Knox Morrow Athletic Conference play with a home-and-home Wednesday and Friday against Danville.
Mount Gilead does have experience up the middle with senior Nick Garvey catching and the senior double-play combination of Carter Kennon and Graham Sherbourne.
“(Utica) hit the ball. They hit it hard. We just can’t give up those big innings,” Mark Kennon added.
It is a formula Utica, which also received an RBI hit from junior Tyler Collura, hopes to duplicate in what should be a deep Licking County League-Cardinal Division.
Despite cleanup hitter Jordan Hartman, who had a hit and a run scored, being the only senior in Monday’s lineup, Utica is seasoned. Gamble and Collura were freshman starters during Utica’s 19-win season in 2021, and many of this season’s sophomores were key contributors last spring.
“We have a lot of the same players back and have taken a whole year of experience under our belt,” Gamble said. “I know from past experiences the second year is much easier than the first, so I feel we will be much better than last year and exceed expectations people have for us.”