Westville pitching stays hot in the cold
Temperatures were in the 40s with blustery winds and intermittent rain.
Whatever Mother Nature was dishing out Wednesday, Brayden Qualkenbush was ready for it.
“I doubled up on Under Armour and wore a jacket when I was in the dugout,” the Westville senior said. “I had a hand warmer and I moved it in my pocket. I felt great.”
Qualkenbush allowed eight hits over six innings, but consistently worked out of the threats, stranding 10 runners and letting just one cross the plate in the Blackhawks’ 6-1 victory over Marquette Catholic at the Marquette Athletic Complex.
“That’s the best game I’ve ever seen him pitch,” Westville coach Chris Piasky said. “He didn’t want to come out, but we’ve got to look at the big picture and the big picture is more than one more inning. We need him for the rest of the season.”
Jackson Nowatzke finished up for Westville (3-1), which has allowed five runs in four games.
“The pitching’s been really good,” Piasky said. “I’m very, very happy with it. It all goes back to off-season workouts. These guys come in and do what’s asked of them. We knew we were going to have good pitching. We probably have about nine guys who can throw strikes and about six guys I have 100 percent confidence in. That makes it easy.”
Westville broke on top with three runs off Cormack Bardol in the third, when Manny Guevara’s two-out single plated a pair. It matched that number, again doing all the damage with two outs, in the fourth, as a Blake Henderson line drive ticked off shortstop Karsen Grott’s glove and a Preston Lake pop fly to shallow left found ground for two RBI.
“This was the first team on our schedule where it was going to be a solid, competitive game,” Marquette coach Casey Martin said. “We had some tough breaks, but the challenge is the same for (Westville). It was a terrible day for baseball. There were things that didn’t go our way and we just weren’t able to get past it. They earned that game.”
Marquette continually made Qualkenbush work out of the stretch, but couldn’t inflict any damage other than Robert Barron’s RBI single in the third. Even then, there was a chance for more with the bases loaded, but Zach Donaldson was called out on a close play at first on his grounder to shortstop. The Blazers also put two on in the second and fifth, but failed to score.
“We were a little unaggressive at the plate,” Martin said. “We have to get up there and hit strikes. We had a lot of strikes we let go by. That’s something you get with more experience. It’s tied into a lack of confidence. You’re unsure of yourself. We battle it every day. We’ve got to be overconfident, even if you have to fake it. You have to go up and get your hacks. Don’t look back at your high school career and think, what was I afraid of? I think we’ll get over it the more we get outside.”
Henderson had two hits for Westville, which opens Porter County Conference play Friday at Hebron.
“We’ve got a pretty young team,” Piasky said. “We’ve still got a lot of learning to do, a lot of growing to do as a team. You play for the conference and the postseason.”
Qualkenbush is hopeful the winter efforts will continue to pay dividends in the spring.
“It feels good when you can trust your defense behind you,” he said. “We’ve still got more to work on, but we’re doing all right. We’ve been working a lot. The working hard and getting dubs. It feels good when you can trust your defense behind you. The offseason was kind of tough, but I still made it to baseball after basketball. We picked it up last year from the other guys being experienced, and we talked to the younger guys. We’re helping them out, getting them to understand.”
Westville 6, Marquette Catholic 1
Brayden Qualkenbush worked six innings for the win.