BY MIKE PHILLIPS / Corsicana Sun
There’s plenty of baseball left for Navarro’s Bulldogs, but if you’re looking for the top two pitchers in the Region XIV race, you don’t have to travel much farther than a trip up 7th Avenue.
Paul Dickens and Austin Faith are two of the biggest reasons the Bulldogs are in first-place in the East Zone, and that was never more evident than Friday afternoon when they both pitched gems against Northeast to break free in what has been a tight race.
The Dawgs had a one game lead on Northeast before Friday but now have a two-game cushion in the zone race after taking the best-of-three weekend series from the Eagles.
That brings us back to Dickens and Faith.
The Dawgs are still pounding out hits and beat Northeast 7-2 and 9-1, and Dickens and Faith picked up the wins on the mound, where neither allowed an earned run.
Dickens won the opener, 7-2, going four innings and giving up two hits while striking out seven. Pepper Jones took care of the final three innings, allowing three hits while fanning five as Dickens and Jones combined to strike out a dozen batters in just seven innings.
Faith shut out Northeast for six innings on four hits and struck out six (it was a long day for the Eagles at the plate, where they struck out 18 times) and Colin Wyman pitched the seventh.
Navarro’s 1-2 punch on the mound wasn’t just brilliant on Friday. Dickens and Faith have been as stingy as anyone in the conference since Navarro started playing the games that count. The Dawgs are now 11-4 after playing in five series, and Dickens and Faith are a combined 7-0.
They don’t just win, they have dominated league play. Dickens is 4-0 with an ERA of just 1.90, and he has struck out 40 batters in 28 innings. Faith is 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA and has struck out 27 in 26 1/3 innings of work.
Now consider this: Navarro has a team batting average of .411 in conference, and the Dawgs have outscored conference opponents 94-37 over their last 10 games, going 7-3 to take over the lead in the East Zone.
It all starts with pitching, and Dickens and Faith give the Bulldogs a chance (make that a real good chance) to win every time they step on the mound. And having a closer like Asher Cook doesn’t hurt. Cook is 2-0 with five saves and a 1.84 ERA for the season. How about conference games? Well, he hasn’t given up a run yet, and has allowed just one hit in six innings of closing out games.
The Dawgs have three games left with Northeast, including two in Mount Pleasant. Wednesday’s rainout there made Friday’s doubleheader even more significant, and Navarro took care of business.
“We had a chance to put some distance between ourselves and the people behind us and we took advantage of that opportunity,” Navarro coach Matt Podjenski said. “I can‘t say enough about our starting pitching. They both (Dickens and Faith) give us a chance to win every day, and you can’t ask for more than that.
“When you have good starting pitching it takes the pressure off of the offense,” he said. “You don’t feel the pressure to score because you know your starting pitching is good and that helps your offense.”
Dickens, who recently signed with Baylor, has been everything the Bulldogs hoped he would be and Faith has emerged as the season has progressed.
“Austin just keeps getting better and better every day,” Podjenski said. “He’s really worked hard to develop his breaking ball. We changed it this year and now he’s throwing a slider and that’s helped him.
“Paul is our sophomore leader,” he said. “He does everything right on and off the field every day. You know what you’re going to get with him every day. Those two have really pitched well, and our bullpen has been real good. Ultimately, to get where we want to go (the College World Series) we need good starting pitching.
“I think our pitching goes back to our non-conference schedule. We played the best of the best. Our guys have seen the best and that’s really helped us in conference play.”
The Dawgs were at their best in Friday’s doubleheader. The top of the order led the way in the 7-2 opening game as leadoff man Esteban Cardoza-Oquendo went 2 for 4, scored and drove in two runs, and the No. 2 hitter, Mason Holt, drove in two runs with a clutch two-run single. Derek Mueller had an RBI single and Scott Hastings had a sacrifice fly.
Hastings was just getting warmed up. Hastings provided the big blow for Faith, who always seems to get great run support, when he belted a grand slam in Navarro’s five-run third inning. Hastings’ five RBI day gives him 22 in 15 conference games, and he leads the Dawgs with 35 RBIs for the season. His slam was his fifth homer of the season and second in league play, where Hastings is hitting .339.
Oquendo and Holt must love Northeast pitching. Oquendo had a triple, scored twice and drove in two more runs in the 9-1 win, and Holt went 2 for 4, scored and drove in two more runs as Podjenski watched the top of his order drive in eight runs in the doubleheader. Matt Wood also had a big game, going 2 for 4, scoring a run and driving in a run.
It was a good Friday for the Dawgs.
GAME 3 SATURDAY:
Northeast 8, Navarro 2
MOUNT PLEASANT — Northeast salvaged one game in the best-of-three weekend series as Chase Talbot hit a grand slam during a five-run seventh inning. The Eagles (20-11 overall and 9-6 in league) managed to trim Navarro’s East Zone lead back to two games at the halfway point of the conference season.
Talbot slugged a 3-2 offering from Asher Cook over the right field fence for his first home run of the season.
Each team scored a first-inning run, and starting pitchers Cole Wesneski of Navarro and Tyler Navarro of Northeast locked into a fast-moving duel that was tied at 1 after four innings. Wesneski threw 55 pitches, allowed four hits, two walks and one earned run while striking out two in his longest start of the season. Navarro, a Waxahachie native, went six innings to claim the victory.
The Eagles nicked reliever Ryan Johnston for single runs in the fifth and sixth innings before breaking it open in the seventh.
The Bulldogs scored a ninth-inning run as Beau Orlando led off with a double and came around to score on an error.
Mason Holt drilled two singles and a double in four at-bats to pace Navarro’s eight-hit attack Saturday.
REGION XIV EAST ZONE BASEBALL SATURDAY
Northeast 8, Navarro 2
Angelina 12-9, Paris 4-1 (2nd Game, 7 innings)
Panola swept Bossier Parish, scores not available