If pitching efficiency were a statistic, Davenport North's Blake Stoughton would likely lead the area.
The Wildcats senior showed again what it means to make every pitch count on Friday night against Clinton in a Mississippi Athletic Conference contest on North's home field. Stoughton threw a complete game in only 69 pitches to help North to the 9-2 victory. The second game of the doubleheader was postponed because of weather and will be made up at 5 p.m. Thursday.
To most pitchers in the area, throwing a complete game in 69 pitches might be a season best. For Stoughton, it was just another day at the park.
Earlier this week, he tossed just 56 pitches in six innings of work against Muscatine and before that he barely cracked the 70-pitch mark against Davenport West. He came into the Friday's start with the 12th-best earned run average in the area at 1.47, and he has walked five batters in 36 2/3 innings of work for the Wildcats (5-9 MAC, 14-12-1 overall).
North coach Cory Wachal said Stoughton's approach and strategy has not only helped himself but also saved the Wildcats from having to burn up other arms in his starts.
"We talk to all our pitchers about working in the zone and making batters put the ball in play, and Blake does about as good a job as anybody we have," Wachal said. “In high school, ninety percent of the time if you throw strikes you are going to be successful. He’s quick to the plate, he’s around the plate with everything and everyone knows that, even the umpires. He lets his defense help him. There’s not a lot of guys that can take that approach, especially in high school.”
Stoughton is not going to blow away opposing hitters with his velocity — he has just 13 strikeouts this season — but his mix of fastball, curveball and change-up leaves very little chance for opponents to square up his pitches.
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Clinton made solid contact on five or six of Stoughton’s offerings as he allowed the River Kings four hits. Ethan Wilkins stole home for Clinton's first run off Stoughton, and Sean Hammond came home while the Wildcats turned a double play.
“I just try to throw strikes and they usually end up hitting it, but my guys can make the plays,” Stoughton said. “I might as well let them do the work. I try to work ahead with the first pitch, that’s the biggest key. If I can do that, I can set it up so the (batter) can’t really swing at something they like. They might end up with a weak grounder or a pop-up.”
Stoughton got 10 of his outs on fly-outs or pop-ups, seven ground-outs and two strikeouts. His defense also turned two unconventional double plays to get out of jams.
“He is low and on the corners, and he locates really well. You have to earn what you get against Blake,” Wachal said.
Stoughton’s teammates took care of the lead with seven runs in the second inning to blow things open. Bryan Verdon, Jack West and Justin Saskowski all drove in two runs. Trevor Collins added a RBI walk and Blake Gaskey contributed a sacrifice fly.
For Clinton (2-13, 7-17), freshman pitcher Jai Jensen provided a bright spot. Jensen came on in relief in the second inning and helped stop the bleeding for the visitors. In his 4 2/3 innings of work, Jensen allowed one unearned run on two hits. He struck out four and did not walk a batter. At one point, he retired eight in a row.
“I actually texted Jai (Friday morning) and asked him ‘Can you come throw a little bit, if we need you?’ I did not expect to use him in the first game, but Jai came in and did a nice job of shutting things down,” Clinton coach Kevin Cunningham said. “He was hitting his spots and using his off-speed pitches well. I was very pleased with his performance.”