Saturday afternoon’s cross-county opener between Hills East and Clarke featured two of the top pitchers on Long Island. Senior Chris Appell for Clarke and junior Stephen Woods for Hills East were both impressive, each showing their own strengths on the mound.
Appell left the game with two outs in the bottom of the sixth with a 3-0 lead, but was charged with two runs after Hills East rallied later that inning. Appell struck out seven and was economical with his pitches, getting through the second, fourth and fifth innings by only throwing 10 pitches in each.
Appell mixed things up and was able to get ahead in counts with both a fastball and a sharp sweeping curve for first pitch strikes. He also effectively used his knuckle drop to close out at bats when he was ahead in the count.
“Appell will be our number one guy this year and he really had it today,” Clarke coach Tom Abruscato said. “It’s early in the season so I took him out when I did but he could have stayed in there. The plan was to get two guys work today and we did a good job.”
“Hats off to Appell, he was throwing two pitches for strikes and at this level if you can do that consistently that’s a great thing,” Hills East coach Tim Belz said. “He kept us off balance with those kinds of pitches.”
On the other side,Woods had a powerful fastball that both coaches believe was in the high 80s. Woods was able to blow batters away with the heat as he struck out nine in the game, and his breaking ball proved to be a good out pitch as well.
Woods ultimately allowed three runs and ran his pitch count over 90, but aside from a few walks and one two-run hit in the third, was in command throughout.
“Other than giving up that one big hit, Woods still dominated the game. He’s still young and is 100-times better from last year to this year,” Belz said. “I think teams in our league will struggle with his velocity if he throws the way he did today. He’s good but he still has a lot of room for improvement.”
“He’s got great stuff,” Abruscato said of Woods. “If you chase high on guys like him you’re done and we did a little. We took a lot of pitches and got him out of the game early but a lot of those at bats ended in strikeouts.”