Prep baseball: Mound ace remains strong, Madison pushes record to 8-0

CARLISLE — Tristan Sipple didn’t need to feel great to be very good Monday.

The Madison High School baseball team remained unbeaten by riding the left arm of its junior ace in a showdown against Carlisle, with Sipple’s three-hit, 12-strikeout effort powering the Mohawks to a 1-0 road victory at Sam Franks Field.

“I can’t do it without great defense,” Sipple said. “I didn’t really feel like I had my best stuff. My curveball was working a little bit along with the cutter, but I felt the velocity was a little down. But I had the defense, so I wasn’t really worried about it.”

» PHOTOS: Rick Cassano’s gallery from Sam Franks Field in Carlisle

Madison got an RBI single from Luke Hughes in the top of sixth inning, then fought off the Indians with the help of two big-time defensive plays.

Center fielder Gabe Higgs snagged a line drive off the bat of Carlisle’s A.J. Keeton and threw to second base for an inning-ending 8-6 double play in the bottom of the sixth, and second baseman Noah Lehman made a diving stop and a throw to first base to retire Dane Flatter to start the bottom of the seventh.

Sipple took over from there and fanned the last two batters as the Mohawks, Division III regional semifinalists last season, improved to 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division.

“Sometimes I feel we get too comfortable at the plate knowing he’s on the mound,” Madison coach Matt Morrison said of Sipple, who issued one walk. “We’ve got to give him some run support because the guy’s always pumping strikes and letting our defense work. We are very thankful to have him in our dugout. He competes his brains out.”

Carlisle coach Chris Hawkins said Sipple was “extra special” with two strikes.

“He can throw it for a strike, he can bury it in the dirt and get you to chase, and his fastball’s obviously got enough velocity where if you’re looking for something else, he’s going to throw it by you,” Hawkins said. “I think the kids on both sides enjoy this game. It’s Madison-Carlisle. This is why you bang around in the gym for so long, to come out and play in games like this.”

The Mohawks are a veteran team that has nine returning guys with significant starting experience, though Morrison said only three — catcher Cameron Svarda, third baseman Cameron Baker and Higgs — are in the same positions they played last year.

“Going undefeated in baseball is nearly unrealistic,” Morrison said. “That’s not our focus. That’s not what we practice for. We tell our guys to love each other every single day, dominate the routine plays and score with two outs. That’s what we talked about this whole offseason.”

Sipple said the love part comes naturally with this crew.

“We’re pretty well bonded,” he said. “Every day in practice we have handshakes, we have rituals, we do all kinds of good stuff. We have a lot of goofballs … it’s all of us.”

The Indians are dealing with quite a bit of roster adversity because of injuries, but they still began Monday play tied for first place in the SWBL Buckeye with Madison and Waynesville.

Freshman Brice Naylor tossed a five-hitter with six strikeouts and two walks for Carlisle (5-6, 4-1), which opened the season by going 1-4 against a slate of big schools in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

Hawkins said he liked his team’s approach at the plate Monday, even with a dozen strikeouts. He mentioned shortstop Kole Larison and third baseman Zach Jewell as defensive standouts.

“We’re 5-6, but I don’t think we’re 5-6 bad,” Hawkins said. “I think we’ll be a better team May 1 than we were April 1. I think the young guys are going to learn and get seasoned a little bit, and hopefully the older guys can get healthy.”

He said injuries have kept seniors Caleb Stewart, Bryan Mullins, J.J. Roberts and Flatter on an availability roller coaster. Stewart was expected to be the Indians’ mound ace and didn’t play Monday.

“I tell my seniors we’ve got a bunch of 40-year-old men in there. We’ve got some old bones,” Hawkins said. “But those older guys that can’t play have done a great job sticking with these younger guys and showing them the ropes. It’s been good. We’re just missing some of that experience.”

Carlisle got singles from Keeton, Flatter and Talon Borders. The latter started the bottom of the sixth with an infield hit and got sacrificed to second by Roberts, and Keeton followed with the screamer to center field that became a twin killing when Borders got doubled off second.

“I got down 0-1 on a curveball and just expected it the next pitch, and it was a curveball right down the middle,” said Keeton, a senior first baseman. “The goal every time is to go out and hit it as hard as you can no matter where it goes. I saw it off the bat and got a little bit excited, but it was right at him. That’s life.”

Hawkins said Naylor is filled with moxie and an ability to change speeds. He kept the Mohawks off balance with a steady diet of changeups.

“He’s got a good fastball,” Hawkins said. “He didn’t have a lot of pop on it tonight, but that wasn’t the pitch he needed. He needed the changeup to be good, and he kept it down.”

Madison produced its run with two outs in the sixth. Justin Gray walked, Jake Edwards singled and Hughes followed with his RBI single.

“Hughes is a very confident hitter right now,” Morrison said. “That was just an all-around great baseball game. Carlisle gave us everything they had, and that’s exactly what I expect out of a Coach Hawkins team.”

Morrison said Jake Munafo will probably be the Mohawks’ starting pitcher Wednesday when they host Carlisle. Hawkins declined to name his starter.

“Our mentality is just to keep grinding,” Keeton said. “As long as your team’s on the right path and everyone’s focused in and keeping up the hustle, you can’t beat that. We’ll put it together.”

Madison 000-001-0—1-5-0

Carlisle 000-000-0—0-3-0

WP — Tristan Sipple (3-0); LP — Brice Naylor (1-1). Records: M 8-0, 5-0 SWBL Buckeye; C 5-6, 4-1 SWBL Buckeye

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