Rarified Dominance on the Mound Coming to Define Top-Ranked Carlisle
PRICE -- It can get pretty lonely as a position player for Carlisle these days -- standing out in the field for minutes at a time with nothing to do.
Often times, whoever takes the mound that day for the top-ranked Indians is doing all the work. And it'd be hard to find anyone doing their job any better.
The Carlisle (15-0, 8-0) pitching staff enters Friday's District 20-A matchup at Overton on a roll that'd be difficult for a video game to duplicate -- no earned runs allowed ... for the season.
And taking it a step further: no hits allowed in the last four games.
"I knew we had all our pitchers coming back this year and I knew that was going to be one of our main strengths," said Carlisle coach Wesley Colley, who led the Indians to the Class A state semifinals last season. "You never prepare yourself for this kind of performance."
The strikeout numbers boggle the mind.
Carlisle pitchers have racked up 215 strikeouts in only 99 innings this season, an average of 15.2 strikeouts per seven innings.
The top three starting pitchers -- Gunner Baker, Zach Brightwell and Shadow Sanders -- have combined to go 14-0 with 182 strikeouts in 82 1/3 innings.
"They’re a classy bunch of kids and they work hard and they deserve the recognition," Colley said of his talented trio of starting pitchers. "And I think they’ll stay well-grounded with all the attention. It’s not really affecting them as they approach each week. I didn’t expect it, but I’m pleased for them and happy to be a part of it.”
Carlisle has eclipsed several school records this season, and have come close to setting a few national records as well.
The four consecutive no-hitters is a school record, while Baker's run of 22 consecutive strikeouts is tied for the national record, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. Carlisle also enjoyed a streak of seven consecutive shutouts, which is tied for second all-time, earlier this season.
“We have a lot school records that we’re setting and just enjoying life right now," Colley said. "We’re just going to try and stay focused on what’s important.”
One game that has best illustrated Carlisle's stretch of dominance this season was Baker's five-inning perfect game March 22 at Gary in which the hard-throwing right-hander retired all 15 batters he faced on strikes.
“He had it working that day," Colley said. "I felt like we had a chance to be very dominant and get a lot of K’s, but I had no idea he could come out and throw a perfect game. He had them on their heels all day long; it was a great thing to watch."
Despite his dominance that day, Baker wasn't immune to a few jitters before heading back to the mound for the final inning.
“I was pretty nervous," he said. "I got one out and on the (second batter) I had a count of 3-2. So I was real nervous then.”
Unlike most schools, especially at the 1A level, there's been little drop off ever since. Two games, two more no-hitters.
“That’s unbelievable," said Baker, who has signed to play junior college baseball at Hill College next year. "Our other two pitchers, they’re working hard as they ever have in their high school career. We’re all three working together and we work every day. It’s good to have three pitchers in 1A like that; you don’t see that very often.”
However, there is a drawback to all the success, according Colley.
"We’ve got two others pitchers who don’t ever get to pitch (Caleb Colley and Ben Goss)," he said. "Both of them are great pitchers and both will be in the starting rotation next year. I’ve tried to find extra games this year just to get them some work. It’s tough, but it’s a good kind of problem to have.”
Compounding the problem is the amount of five-inning games Carlisle has played this season because of the 10-run mercy rule.
“You have to think of ways to get them involved," Colley said. "We had two Saturday games that got cancelled in which both Caleb and Goss were going to pitch and we just couldn’t do anything about it. We’re trying to get them some innings where we can.”
One way Coach Colley is attempting to solve the dilemma is having both Caleb Colley and Goss pitch live batting practice to the team on non-game days.
With a deep pitching staff as his disposal, Coach Colley also realizes some opposing coaches may take their chances and flip for one-game playoffs instead of the traditional best-of-three format.
That's just fine with him.
“The way I look at it, you could easily say with this much pitching everybody’s going to want to flip me for one game," he said. "But on the flip side, if they flip me for one game, they’re going to see a kid that’s throwing 90-91 (mph). 'Be ready and hold on. Whatever you want to do, let’s go.'"
By The Numbers
Gunner Baker, Sr., RHP
- 7-0, 0.00 ERA, 89 K's, 14 BB's, 37 1/3 innings
Zach Brightwell, Jr., RHP
- 4-0, 0.00 ERA, 44 K's, 1 BB, 21 2/3 innings
Shadow Sanders, Sr., LHP
- 3-0, 0.00 ERA, 49 K's, 15 BB's, 23 1/3 innings