LONGMONT — Facing a pitcher in Mead's Brady Carstens who has been as dominant a strikeout artist as there is in Class 4A baseball, the Holy Family Tigers needed to be ready to attack in Thursday's Tri-Valley League matchup.
The Tigers' Zach Becker set that tone in the first inning at the Mead field by hitting one of the senior's first few pitches to dead center for a triple, and although Carstens still limited the Tigers from scoring a lot of runs, putting the ball in play was enough to get the job done in a 2-1 win for HFHS.
Carstens didn't get the swings and misses that he is used to, registering a season-low four strikeouts in the complete game effort, and Becker's fifth-inning, run-scoring double proved to be the difference in a contest that saw five total double plays turned as well as several other standout defensive plays.
"We let our last game slip away, so we really wanted to come out here and just put a full game together," Becker said after hitting the ball hard in all four of his plate appearances. "We knew we were facing their best pitcher, so we just tried to stay short and hit the ball hard and, defensively, clean up the errors we've had the last few games.
"We knew he had a pretty good fastball and a really good curveball and slider, so we've just been practicing getting our foot down early and reacting to whatever he threw. Just trying to put the ball in play."
As the score would indicate, both squads went toe-to-toe with each coming off tough extra-inning losses this past Saturday. Mead was dealt a 4-3 loss to league front-runner Windsor, while Holy Family lost a nail-biter to Roosevelt.
That was fresh in Becker's mind despite a pretty long layoff in action, but he knew it wouldn't be easy against Carstens, who entered Thursday with 72 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings pitched this season.
Becker and Jordan Closen, sitting in the No. 2 slot in the lineup, were equally aggressive at the top of the order and accounted for four of Holy Family's six hits. But a Closen sacrifice fly got Becker home in the first inning and Holy Family would have baserunners in six of seven frames against Carstens. Three of Carstens' four strikeouts came the first time through the lineup, and Holy Family coach Marc Cowell was pleased with the approach overall.
"Our guys and their approach at the plate is something they've just been getting better at week by week," Cowell said, his team now 9-3 overall and 7-2 in league. "I had heard from other teams that had (faced Carstens) that said they wish they had not have been so tentative early in counts, so we told our guys to open yourself up a little more and just make sure that it's a ball you can barrel up. They were able to do that."
Mead's three double-plays turned helped keep the contest winnable for the Mavericks (8-6, 3-6), and in the sixth inning they put their biggest rally together against starter Jordan McFarland.
Down 2-0, Ryan McDaniel singled and gave way to Benjamin Borrego as a courtesy runner with one out. Borrego used his speed to steal second and third base before coming home on an errant throw by the catcher, but he likely would have scored either way as Greyson Young and Brett Boaz both had base hits, too. McFarland struck out Nick Jacobs and the Tigers intentionally walked Carstens to set up a force play, and McFarland induced a ground ball to wiggle out of the jam.
In the seventh, Tanner Leise singled with one out to give Mead life. However, Becker came in for the save opportunity and locked it down with a strikeout and a groundout.
"Mead's a good squad, and they're a team you want to measure yourself up with because we expect to play that caliber of team or better if we're fortunate enough to make playoffs," Cowell said.
The teams switched their scheduled Saturday game to Friday afternoon to try and get ahead of incoming weather. The teams will play at Holy Family at 3 p.m.
Holy Family 2, Mead 1
At Mead HS
Holy Family100 010 0 — 2 6 2
Mead000 001 0 — 1 5 2
W — Jordan McFarland. L — Brady Carstens. S — Zach Becker.
Holy Family hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Zach Becker 4-1-2-1, Jordan Closen 3-0-2-1, Collin Kringlen 3-0-0-0, Will Brassil 3-0-1-0, Phillip Neil 3-0-0-0, Weston Siefkin 1-0-0-0, Jacob Callaway 3-0-0-0, Josh Baker 3-0-0-0, Davis Martinek 2-1-1-0. Totals 25-2-6-2. 2B —Becker. 3B —Becker.
Mead hitting (ab-r-h-rbi) — Greyson Young 3-0-1-0, Brett Boaz 2-0-1-0, Nick Jacobs 3-0-1-0, Brady Carstens 2-0-0-0, John Edwards 1-0-0-0, Caleb Ayers 2-0-0-0, Brady Veltien 3-0-0-0, Tanner Leise 3-0-1-0, Lucas Hale 3-0-0-0, Ryan McDaniel 3-1-1-0, Ben Borrego 0-0-0-0. SB —Young, Boaz, Borrego 2.
Holy Family pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Jordan McFarland 6.1-5-1-0-2-4, Becker 0.2-0-0-0-0-1.
Mead pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — Brady Carstens 7-5-2-2-2-4.