As he straddled the mound, unfurling his long left arm toward the strike zone once more, Carter Bach looked like he’d been there before. Centreville’s sophomore pitcher wasn’t breathtaking against Westfield last Friday — he recorded two walks and an error to go with seven strikeouts in six innings — but he was good enough to limit the Wildcats’ crosstown rival to three hits and one run. You wouldn’t know it was his first career start, nor would you suspect he could barely get the ball to the plate two weeks earlier.
Bach spent much of last month battling mono, forcing him to play catchup after two weeks away from school. While schoolwork remained the top priority, he also needed to make up ground on the diamond, where he was itching to help Centreville make up for the graduation of his older brother, Carson, a standout pitcher for the Wildcats last year. Mono threatened to keep him in bed at all hours, but Bach resisted with frequent trips alongside his dad and his brother to a nearby field, where pitches often bounced to the plate or flew way over it.
“I lost 10, 15 pounds, so I had to start eating and drink lots of water,” Bach said. “I drank two gallons a day for two weeks straight. I just tried to get over it as quick as possible.”
His hard work paid off Friday on Centreville’s home field, where parents and youngsters gathered to celebrate SYA Night under light rainfall. Bach tallied 64 strikes in 94 pitches, holding the Bulldogs scoreless until Nick Collins smashed a one-run triple in the sixth inning.
“I was just running on my adrenaline the whole time and just kept pounding the zone,” said Bach, who was escorted by his little brother, Casey, on SYA Night. “The umpire was good today.”
The Wildcats needed a strong performance from Bach on a night that saw them string together just four hits, two of them from senior outfielder AJ Catalano. Centreville’s defense carried them to a 4-1 victory, the fourth straight win over their friends on Stonecroft Boulevard.
Friday’s triumph gave Centreville a nice boost of momentum heading into the Seahawk Invitational, their spring break tournament in Hilton Head, S.C., this week. The Wildcats kicked things off Monday with a 7-4 win over Lewisville High, a South Carolina program whose record fell to 16-2.
That win moved Centreville’s record to 5-1 on the young season, nothing new for a revitalized program that has started strong each of the last three years. After failing to put together a winning season from 2004 through 2009, Centreville has compiled records of 16-7 or better three of the last four years, and there are plenty of reasons for the Wildcats to bank on more success this spring.
The team’s strength begins with a deep pitching staff led by senior hurlers Daniel Woodruff (0.196 ERA in 15.1 innings) and Brennan Arvo (.000 ERA in 10.2 innings). Senior first baseman Scott Walter leads a reliable group of hitters with 10 hits and seven RBI in 19 plate appearances. Walter joins third baseman Jimmy Nicholas and second baseman Jake Behne in forming an infield of football players, all of them still riding the high of last fall’s state championship.
Centreville coach Scott Findley, now in his second year at the helm, likes the camaraderie of a team that he considers more experienced than last year’s unit.
“It’s about the mental side of it,” Findley said. “It’s outstanding how much these guys pick each other up. This is a really selfless group.”
Findley hopes that element of seasoned unity pushes his team to greater heights in the playoffs, where the Wildcats have struggled mightily the past couple years. Despite racking up 32 regular-season wins in 2012 and 2013, Centreville won just two postseason games in that span, failing to advance past the regional quarterfinals both years.
“Hanging a banner is our top priority,” said Nicholas, who has eight hits in 14 at-bats so far this season. “It’s something that we’re working for, but our main focus is the next game. Our most important thing is the next game, but the banner is always in the back of our minds.”
Nicholas and company are carrying some good vibes these days, many of them coming from last Wednesday’s 6-0 win against Chantilly. That result exacted some revenge against the Chargers, who snapped Centreville’s 11-game win streak with a 5-1 victory to close the 2013 regular season before burying them again a week later in the Concorde semifinals.
Whispers of a conference banner keep circulating Centreville’s dugout, even as their skipper senses something bigger.
“They all talk about winning the district title, but I just keep telling them to dream bigger,” said Findley, whose program has never won a district championship. “What happens if we do win the district title? Are we done?”
Talking playoffs is always fun, but the Wildcats know they’ve got to stay focused on April before wondering what May has to offer. If they can do that, it might offer Centreville something unprecedented.