Hladik, Wood show mound mettle for Hustle Baseball 17U

By DN WRITING STAFF | September 16, 2022

Andrew Hladik singled and pitched three scoreless innings for Hustle Baseball 17U.

By Rich Bevensee

Seton Hall Prep classmates Andrew Hladik and Kevin Wood were primarily position players on the junior varsity baseball team last spring. 

After their combined shutout effort in the Diamond Nation Fall High School League on Tuesday evening, all indications point to the junior duo having a major impact on the Pirates varsity pitching staff next spring. 

Hladik faced one batter over the minimum to record three scoreless innings, Wood fired his way through another two scoreless frames, and the Hustle Baseball 17U squad rode their arms to a 2-0 victory over Hillsborough Gold at “The Nation” in Flemington. 

“Our pitchers did a really good job,” Hustle coach Matt Rago said. “This was their first time out this fall so we’re trying to get guys a bunch of opportunities on the mound. For the most part they threw strikes. I was happy, you know, because anytime you can throw a shutout, you’re pleased.”

Hustle brought in Ryan Spaar, a junior at Millburn, for the sixth and he pitched a scoreless inning. He walked the first two batters he faced to put the tying runs on base, then got two strikeouts and a popup. 

Hladik threw 45 pitches through his three innings of work and logged three strikeouts while allowing one hit, an Alex Orr grounds rule double in the second inning. That was the only damage. 

“It was the first time I pitched since mid-August because I wanted to protect my arm,” Hladik said. “I mainly tried to focus on hitting my fastball spots. By the third batter I started incorporating a curveball and my slider, trying to get those over for strikes, and I incorporated a changeup late in the third inning.

Hladik’s success mainly came from making his fastball tough to hit because he had exceptional command of location, spotting it at hitters’ knees.  

“What helped me was we just played the game before with the same umpire (a 7-3 loss to Whitehouse Post 284),” Hladik said, “so I knew from my previous at bats that he liked the low and away spots, so I tried to take advantage of that and it worked really well.”

Hladik, who mainly played second base and shortstop during the school year, pitched on a semi-regular basis for The Prep during the spring but he became part of Hustle’s regular rotation since school let out. 

But Hladik has been pitching more not because he sees it as the way to make varsity next season. He sees it as his best opportunity to show his stuff. Period.

“I want to be a pitcher for Seton Hall,” said the 5-10, 165-pound Hladik. “If I have the opportunity to play the field and can hit, too, I would love that, but pitching is primary for me. I think I’m the best at it and it’s what I enjoy the most.

Alex Orr delivered Hillsborough Gold’s biggest hit of the game, a second-inning grounds rule double.

“I love the mentality of pitching, that you have to compete every single pitch,” Hladik said. “Even though you can do that at shortstop, you have to do that as a pitcher as well. You have to make that pitch or cost the team a home run. You have to be on your toes every single time you’re on the mound.”

Wood, primarily an outfielder with range and a strong arm, said he’d like to pitch as well as play the outfield for Seton Hall Prep’s varsity next spring. He’ll make a good case for it if tryouts look like Tuesday night’s outing. He exhibited an exceptional fastball while making quick work of the Hillsborough batters. Wood, a 6-2, 155-pound righty, whiffed four while allowing one hit in his two innings, mixing a slider and curve with his fastball on 32 pitches.

“This was a good debut for me,” said Wood, playing his first game in a Hustle uniform. “The fastball was really working off the corner of the plate. It had a lot of movement. For me it’s just getting up there and throwing strikes. I don’t try to think about anything – that’s my method. Get up there, do my thing and get done.”

Rago came away impressed with Hladik and Wood in their fall openers. 

“Andrew and Kevin are natural pitchers,” Rago said. “This is the first time I’ve seen Kevin throw and he did a great job for us. I’ve had Andrew the last three years so I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Andrew play everything from shortstop to center field to the mound. They’re good athletes.”

Hustle got on the board in the top of the second inning when Nate Ullman reached on a fielder’s choice and Spaar drove a long fly into the right field corner, allowing Ullman to score from first. 

Hustle added an insurance run in the fourth when Aidan Pichardo walked and Brayden Peoples (Wayne Valley) blasted a triple to left. 

“Honestly, a lot of these guys just need to improve on what we worked on over the summer,” Rago said. “It’s really about self-reflection. At the end of the summer, guys identified what they needed to work on. We don’t have a lot of guys who play multiple sports, so the fall is an opportunity for them to get reps.”

Hillsborough Gold pitchers did a terrific job of keeping their team within striking distance, as Hustle batters went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

Hillsborough starter James Drinkwater pitched two innings and allowed a run on two hits and a walk with three strikeouts. Krish Patel yielded a run on two hits and three walks with two strikeouts. Orr pitched a scoreless inning with one hit and one strikeout. And Brayden Fox pitched a scoreless sixth with two hits and a strikeout.

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