A pickoff by the pitcher or catcher is a crucial play in baseball, because a scoring threat can be negated with a swift, confident throw to an occupied base. And on July 11, Sussex East used pickoffs to stamp out two early-inning scoring rallies by Sussex West, which sent the Patriots into a tailspin.
Sussex West mustered only five hits the entire game and finally scored their lone run in the 7-1 loss, two outs deep into the top of the seventh inning. So capitalizing was critical. Sussex East catcher Bo Wilkinson and starting pitcher Colin Warner made sure they did their part to keep their opponents from getting the best of them.
“We really ran ourselves out of that game,” Sussex West assistant head coach Roy Lamberton said.
Warner, a notoriously slow starter, allowed two leadoff walks to start the game and a past pitch allowed by Wilkinson gave Sussex West runners on the corners with no outs. But Wilkinson and Warner would redeem their earlier mistakes.
Warner’s next two pitches to the third batter, B.J. Jenkins, dropped in for called strikes. And rather than flipping the ball back to the mound, Wilkinson fired the ball down to nab a napping Matt Terry at third base for the first out of the inning.
Warner retired the next two batters, including Jenkins, leaving Sussex West heading to the dugout empty-handed.
Sussex West jumped on Warner again in the second, but that time it was on back-to-back one-out singles.
Patriot leftfielder Danny Hamilton then grounded into the 6-4 force out, giving the team another scoring opportunity. But Warner squashed their hopes by picking off Kyle Hearn for the final out, before Wade Eskridge could even take his first pitch.
“Warner is known for having a good pickoff move,” Lamberton said. “Some of the guys commented that they’re glad that he won’t be around next year (for school ball).
Warner’s low leg kick and compact throwing motion make it very difficult for even the fastest base runners to get a good jump on him — especially when he whips it over there on what seems like a whim.
“I told Trevor (playing first base) to keep his head up because Colin will snap it on over there,” Sussex East head coach Jody Sweetman said.
“Colin and (Kevin) Tappan are definitely the best,” Sussex East (and Sussex Central High School) outfielder Martez Hagans said of their pickoff moves. “As a base runner, you want to be aggressive. And when their leg goes up, you want try to get a good jump.”
“And it’s tough to do that against Colin,” he continued.
“I just try to keep the base runners honest,” Warner admitted. “And if I can, I’ll pick them off.”
“It’s one less person I have to worry about scoring a run,” he continued.
From the third inning on, Warner and his defense worked two three-up, three-down innings, and allowed only two hits in two innings before loosening up late in the seventh.
Sussex West tallied three seventh-inning hits, including a RBI single by Eskridge. But by that time, the damage was done and the Patriots were already packing their bags.
“Pickoffs can kill a team’s momentum,” Sussex East pitcher Zac Spece said. “It can turn the momentum for your team, to help you win the game.”
With a 1-2 record, Warner’s effort earned him his first win of the season in a complete game effort while he fanned seven and walking four.