JOHNSBURG – A Johnsburg infielder described the accuracy and quality of senior Joey Hagen’s pitches best after the first at-bat against Harvard ended in a four-pitch strikeout, calling the left-hander’s arsenal “hellacious.”
Hagen, who had 15 strikeouts in a 2-1 win over Marengo last week, took a no-hitter into the fifth inning Monday before allowing Harvard’s first hit and an unearned run in their Kishwaukee River Conference game.
The Skyhawks’ offense then backed Hagen with two runs in the bottom half of the inning and held on to defeat the Hornets, 2-1, for their third win in the past four games.
Hagen allowed only the one hit and a walk over 5 2/3 innings while striking out nine. Hagen struck out the side in the third, giving him five straight strikeouts at that point, and had pinpoint command of his pitches.
“I’m just hitting my spots,” said Hagen, who threw first-pitch strikes to 14 of 20 batters. “The last two games, I’ve never hit more spots in my life. The catcher [Alex Delulio] isn’t really moving all that much when I’m pitching to him. As long as I can do that, we’re fine.”
Skyhawks coach Sam Lesniak didn’t think Hagen had his best stuff Monday. Hagen said he threw his changeup more than usual after that pitch felt good in warmups.
“Joey’s a stud. All year, he’s been on fire on the mound,” Lesniak said. “He just does an awesome job of getting ahead of hitters. He’s always right around the zone. Today, he battled it a little bit. But he’s got great composure. He’s a great competitor, and he’s obviously got a ton of skill.”
Harvard’s only run came after Hagen retired the first 13 batters. Jacob Stanley became the first baserunner for the Hornets after he was hit by a pitch and moved to second base on a pick-off attempt that was thrown away in the top of the fifth.
Hagen struck out the next batter for the second out, but Austin Kohley delivered a solid single into left field to score Stanley and give Harvard a 1-0 lead. Hagen struck out the next batter to escape the inning.
Johnsburg’s Evan Frasch led off the bottom of the fifth with a double to left. The next batter, Delulio, drove in Frasch with a single to left and moved up to second base on an error. Zach Meyers (2 for 3) then provided the go-ahead run with a double to the left-center gap that got away from Hornets center fielder Omar Garcia.
Meyers hustled into second with a pop-up slide as his teammates cheered loudly in the dugout.
“On a 3-2 count, you just want to hit the ball. All season all I’ve wanted to do is just hit the ball hard,” said Meyers, who had a walk-off hit last week. “I wasn’t sure [if I would get to second]. I’m not as fast as I used to be. During quarantine, I got kind of big. But you always have to try your best.”
Lesniak was happy to see his team respond to Harvard’s run in the top of the fifth after the Skyhawks (3-8, 3-4 KRC) left eight runners on base over the first three innings.
“I think that’s super important we were able to respond,” Lesniak said. “You don’t put your head down. You’re not burying yourselves. You do come back and you score a couple. That was good. I love that. We’ve just got to do a better job with runners in scoring position, being able to smell blood a bit and put up a big number.”
After Hagen retired the first two batters in the top of the sixth, he issued his first walk and was replaced by reliever Josh Notriano, who retired the last four batters of the game, including two strikeouts.
Stanley pitched five innings for Harvard, allowing two runs on eight hits. He had four strikeouts and six walks.
Harvard coach Adam Ulen said the Hornets have to do a better job of attacking early.
“Hagen definitely is one of the harder lefties that we’ve seen so far,” Ulen said. “We needed to be a bit more aggressive, especially on the first pitch. We knew he liked to go first-pitch strike out of the gate. Starting 0-1 to any pitcher isn’t good, but you start out 0-1 to a pitcher like that, and you’re putting yourself in a bad spot.”