The nonconference schedule has been a fertile area of success this season for Middletown High School’s baseball team.
The Greater Miami Conference? Not so much. Actually, not by a long shot.
Winless in GMC play, the Middies boosted their record to 6-1 against nonconference opponents Sunday with a 7-3 victory over Winton Woods in the Skyline Chili Reds Futures Showcase at the Reds Urban Youth Academy.
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“To be honest, not a lot of the nonconference games have been too challenging,” third-year Middletown coach Wes Mercer said. “Outside of a couple games, everything else has been a blowout at one end or the other. Things are definitely progressing for us. We just need that one big win in the GMC to get things rolling in the right direction.”
The Middies opened their nonconference slate with a 6-5 loss to Franklin. Since then, Middletown has beaten Western Hills, Trotwood-Madison, Winton Woods twice and Alter twice.
The doubleheader sweep (13-5 and 11-10 in eight innings) of Alter on Saturday may have led to Middletown coming out a bit flat Sunday. The Middies also rolled past Winton Woods 11-1 less than two weeks ago.
“It was great to see our guys in a close game against Alter and fight and come back in both games,” Mercer said. “But we played a lot of baseball yesterday and haven’t had an off day for a while. Maybe the kids were just a little tired and came into this game thinking they didn’t have to play hard.”
Middletown (6-12) never trailed in Sunday’s contest on Don Johnson Field, yet watched Winton Woods cut a 5-0 deficit to 5-3 in the sixth inning.
Gene Underhill and Nick Thornton combined on a three-hitter for the Middies. Underhill struck out seven in six innings to pick up the win and the game’s Most Valuable Player award.
“My offspeed was working a lot,” said Underhill, a junior right-hander who usually plays third base or shortstop when he’s not pitching. “I had a lot of fun. I just tried to keep the team up. We started off real slow, but we came back and worked together. The team was behind me when I was pitching. I could count on them.”
Adonis Herrera drove in two runs and Kyle Keister collected two hits for the Middies. Keister, Underhill, Frank Herrera and Nick Holland all had RBIs.
“It’s always nice to get a win, especially when you start the year struggling and losing games the way we’ve been losing them,” Mercer said. “But we definitely need to play better if we’re going to compete in the GMC. I was hoping to come in and roll off a big win and get everybody in today, and it got a little scary at the end.
“With the way our pitching and defense have been, it takes one error and a couple walks and things start to compound upon each other. So I’m glad we got out with the win.”
Winton Woods (5-5) had no answer for the Middies’ running game — they stole 15 bases. But Kenny Mayberry and Nic Haynes teamed up for a six-hitter and kept the Warriors within striking distance, and Haynes delivered an RBI single at the plate.
“It was definitely better than the last time we played them,” Winton Woods coach Mark Hadaya said. “It’s been pretty mixed this season. I think you saw some of the good stuff today, and you saw some of the bad stuff.
“A few errors really hurt us today, and that’s been the case in most of our losses. Offensively, I think we’re creating stuff. Getting them all the way in is the problem.”
Scheduling isn’t the easiest thing for the Warriors, who aren’t part of a league. So Hadaya is appreciative of Middletown’s efforts to keep playing them.
“We kind of have to play anybody and everybody,” said Hadaya, whose squad hosts Roger Bacon on Tuesday. “We’re working to get better. I told the guys I’m proud of them. I’m confident in them. It just didn’t turn out our way today.”
The Middies have substantially raised their offensive game this season after hitting a measly .187 as a unit in 2017.
“Right now, we’re hitting well over .300 as a team,” Mercer said. “This is probably the most talented team I’ve had at Middletown, but they’re really raw. We’ve got new kids that have never played with each other, so they’re kind of figuring each other out. Defense and pitching have been our Achilles heel.”
Middletown has had just one close game in the GMC this year, dropping an 11-10 decision to Fairfield. The Middies have been outscored by an average margin of 15-4 in 11 conference contests.
So what’s it going to take to achieve some GMC success?
“Just simple things. Just catch and throw,” Underhill said. “Our mind-set is just win this pitch, win this pitch. That’s what we’ve got to work with.”
Underhill, Thornton and Holland are the only returning Middletown players who had a significant number of at-bats last year.
Among the newcomers are the Herrera brothers, freshman Adonis and sophomore Frank, from the Dominican Republic. Adonis is one of the GMC’s top hitters.
Also new are junior Asa Crockett, who was homeschooled last year, and junior Keister, who came from Lebanon and is a first-year high school player.
“Our team’s so much different this year,” Mercer said. “The new guys have brought a lot of offense to our team, but they’ve also had their ups and downs. The big thing is we need our defense to play behind our pitchers, and we need our pitchers to throw strikes. We can’t give free 90s away.
“I’m sure there’s lot of teams looking at our record and thinking they can throw the back end of their pitching and beat us. We may catch somebody off guard one day.”
The Middies have won four of their last five games. They will resume GMC play at home Monday against Oak Hills.
“We’ve got a schedule in the next week where I think we can get some more wins,” Mercer said. “We’re going day by day here. We’re just trying to be a better team each day.”
Winton Woods 000-012-0—3-3-4
WP — Gene Underhill (1-2); LP — Kenny Mayberry (1-1). Records: W 5-5, M 6-12