Ryan Green may well be just a freshman, but he has rapidly become the big game pitcher Whale Branch Early College High School needs to make noise come playoff time.
For the second time in as many seasons, Green led the Warriors to an opening round home victory in the Class 1-A playoffs with a dominating performance, this time holding Military Magnet hitless in a 6-1 victory Thursday that was closer than the scoreboard would indicate.
The 14-year-old fanned 13 batters and didn't allow the ball out of the infield, holding down the visiting Eagles until the Warriors broke the game open with four unearned runs in the sixth inning. The complete-game performance rivaled Green's playoff debut last year against Cross, where as an eighth grader he allowed just three runs and went the distance for the victory.
Just as they did last year, Whale Branch will once again head to Latta this Saturday for a battle with the state's second-ranked Class 1-A team. And just like last season, the Warriors have their young pitcher to thank for the trip.
"He went the distance again tonight and threw a no-hitter in doing so. As a freshman that's big," Whale Branch coach Joshua Brister said. "Thirteen strikeouts and throwing a no-hitter is big stuff for a freshman."
While the final score might suggest otherwise, Whale Branch needed every bit of Green's mound performance to get past the young Eagles. In fact, at 2-1 in the sixth inning the game was very much in doubt before a pair of disastrous errors essentially decided the matter in the Warriors' favor.
With two on and two out, Military Magnet second baseman Shakell Richardson misplayed a pop up in short right field off the bat of Mark Hatcher, allowing two unearned runs to score. A little later in the inning a poor throw on a pickoff attempt at first base permitted two more unearned runs to cross, pushing the lead to 6-1 and leaving the Eagles wondering what might have been after Green easily closed them out in the top of the seventh.
"Our goal is to get on base and put pressure on the defense and that worked for us tonight," Brister said. "They made those two mistakes in the sixth, and that was all we needed with the way Green was pitching tonight."
Despite some control problems that allowed Military Magnet to score their lone run in the fourth inning on a wild pitch that knotted the game at one for a short period, Green was by and large in control the entire game. His fastball overpowered the young Eagles, and well-timed breaking balls kept batters off balance for almost the entire game.
"My performance last year in the playoffs definitely helped me tonight," Green said. "I had a lot of confidence based on that game last year and I was able to stay focused the whole way."
Green also helped himself at the plate, scoring what proved to be the winning run following a triple to deep center field in the bottom of the fourth. One batter later the freshman crossed home plate on a sacrifice fly by Tiko Green that made the score 2-1.
After a missing a couple early opportunities to score, the Warriors broke through for their first run in the bottom of the third when shortstop Malik Fields legged out an infield single that scored a runner from third base with two outs.
That type of hustle was evident all evening from the Warriors, who stole multiple bases and constantly put pressure on the Military Magnet defense despite struggling at the plate against Eagle starter Joshua Griffin, who gave up just two earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. While that aggressiveness cost the Warriors a couple times on the basepaths, it's the only way Brister wants to see his team play.
"We preach to them to stay aggressive on the basepaths, so I really don't worry when we make a mistake or two," Brister said. "It's how we play and it's how we win."
Winning their next challenge at Latta on Saturday won't be quite as easy for the upstart Warriors. The Class 1-A power defeated Whale Branch in the playoffs last year and will be considered a heavy favorite when the two foes reunite this weekend. Fields will get the start for the Warriors, who are guaranteed a home game next week in the double-elimination tournament according to Brister.
"We have a saying here to just play the baseball," Brister said. "We know they are a good team but we just need to play our game and worry about the baseball."