When dealing with freshman, especially those at the high school level, the moment can become too big or hardly noticeable.
Wednesday was a big moment for Jackson Smeltz and McCutcheon’s baseball team. The Mavericks lost Tuesday’s matchup against Harrison and couldn’t afford another setback to their rival.
This is when the left-handed Smeltz seized the moment. He was matched up against senior left-hander Matt McConnell, a tough Raider lineup and endured windy and cold temperatures as McCutcheon posted an 8-1 victory in the 93rd meeting between the programs.
“He seems to be a kid that competes and the moment wasn’t too big for him and he was around the zone,” said Raiders coach Pat Lowrey, a former pitcher at McCutcheon. “Quite frankly, he got the best of our hitters. He was challenging our guys and our guys didn’t step up.”
Smeltz scattered seven hits, walked just one and struck out nine in earning his first victory. He’ll remember it because it came against the Raiders, a team the Mavericks could face two more times this season.
“It means a lot,” Smeltz said. “Harrison is our biggest rival and it was important to show them we can compete. This is probably the best competition we’ve faced all year.”
If Smeltz had any nerves, it didn’t show in this North Central Conference matchup. The 6-foot-2 Smeltz got stronger as the game moved through the later innings. His fastball had plenty of pop and his breaking pitches were effective enough to keep Harrison’s offense from mounting a serious rally.
The key – first-pitch strikes.
“I think I had 18 of 23 first-pitch strikes. Getting ahead of the batter helped,” Smeltz said. “If I can do that, I can do more things with my offspeed pitches. I felt getting ahead was the best thing I did today.”
Full disclosure – Smeltz wasn’t keeping track of his first-pitch strikes.
“My coach came up and told me about it. I couldn’t do that,” he said, smiling.
It does show a level of awareness and realizing what’s important for a pitcher to achieve success at any level. Again, Smeltz embraced this moment instead of letting the moment overtake him.
“I told our kids, ‘I’m excited to see how he throws against McConnell.’ Senior versus freshman and it was a must game for us. He probably didn’t realize it was a must game for us,” McCutcheon coach Jake Burton said.
Smeltz’s teammates and the Raiders helped him settle into a rhythm. Harrison committed four errors, including three during a four-run third-inning, and the Mavericks took advantage of those mistakes. Mason Bruce had an RBI single and Walter Talcott drove in two runs with a single.
Another error in the fifth helped McCutcheon score four more times. Smeltz delivered an RBI single and Brady Douglas produced a two-run double.
“We’ve been playing pretty good defensive all year but you can’t boot the ball and you can’t walk guys,” Lowrey said. “Our defense let Matt down today. He threw good enough to give us a shot.”
Although Smeltz is a freshman, Burton didn’t give any thought to skipping his turn in the rotation.
“This is who we are. We’re going to put whoever is up next and he pitched,” Burton said. “It was a good decision because we won tonight.”