Southies’ Smith, Proctor fend off Makos rallies in Super 17

By DN WRITING STAFF | June 27, 2024

The Makos’ Tyler DiCecco dives back to the bag with the Southies’ Colin Langster holding first.

By Rich Bevensee

A tie game may imply an evenly played game, but there are two sides to every story. For proof, just ask the Richmond Baseball Academy Southies of Midlothian, Virginia, and the Ocean State Makos of Warwick, Rhode Island.

Southies righty Nathan Smith and lefty Caden Proctor spent the better part of the latter innings walking the proverbial highwire, keeping men on base from scoring. They pitched well under pressure, they combined to allow just one run on four hits, and were pleased with a tie game. 

Makos southpaw Levi Maguire also allowed just one run on four hits and didn’t really face a heckuva lot of pressure, not like the Southies hurlers did, anyway. He and his teammates were not pleased with a tie game. Not at all. 

While the teams may not agree, the bottom line is this: There may not have been a lot of offense, but quality pitching had a lot to do with that when the Southies and Makos battled to a 1-1 deadlock through seven innings in Week 2 of the Super 17 Invitational on Wednesday morning at Diamond Nation in Flemington.

The Southies weren’t exactly delighted with a tie, but considering how they got there, a tie wasn’t the worst that could have happened. 

The Makos loaded the bases in the bottom of the fifth inning with two outs against Smith and came up empty. They loaded the bases again in the sixth with two outs against Proctor and went back to the bench scoreless. 

Adding to the drama, the Makos’ Brian Rutkowski tripled to lead off the bottom of the seventh. But Proctor escaped with two strikeouts and a pop up to end the game.

“I’d say this was a good tie,” Southies coach Ryan Irby said. “When it came to get a good pitch in, they (Smith and Proctor) got a good pitch in. They had a lot of trouble getting ahead today, but we got good pitches with two strikes so it worked out.”

Makos coach Mark Cahill, who watched his team go 1 for 11 with runners in scoring position, was singing a much different tune.

“A tie is bad, and I’ll tell you why,” Cahill said. “We had an opportunity to win the game with no outs and a man on third base, and we couldn’t put the bat on the ball. That’s pretty sad. We left the bases loaded twice. You’re not looking for huge hits but you’re looking for contact, and when guys go up there taking strikes they should be swinging at, that’s pretty sad, too.”

While seeing Rutkowski stranded at third after leading off the last of the seventh with a triple was certainly frustrating for the Makos, Proctor said he reveled in the opportunity to face a massive pressure situation. 

“I was not nervous at all. No moment’s too big for me,” said Proctor, a rising senior at The Steward School in Richmond, Va. “I’ve been in a lot of tough situations and it doesn’t bother me. I’m just trying to throw strikes, make them hit it, make them do damage instead of giving it to them for free.”

One inning earlier Proctor escaped a bases loaded jam with a 

strikeout, his fifth in his two innings of work. Proctor said he used a two-seam and four-seam fastball and a curveball to make his mark.

“Getting out of a jam is definitely more satisfying than striking out the side,” Proctor said. “The team gets pumped up when you’re in a tough situation and you get out of it. In a perfect inning, the team doesn’t get as involved.”

Smith, a long, 6-2 righty with a fastball, slider and changeup, escaped bases-loaded jams in the first and fifth innings. In the fifth, the Makos’ Dylan Winslow loaded the bases with a two-out single, but Smith kept the Makos off the scoreboard by snaring Jonathan Tawa’s line drive back to the mound.

Smith’s second escape became even more impactful because the Southies came back to score their only run in their next at bat. Smith finished with one run allowed on two hits and five walks with seven strikeouts in five innings.

Johnny Payne drove in the Makos’ only run of the game with a first inning fielder’s choice RBI.

“When you’re under pressure you try to throw strikes and hopefully they ground into an easy play or you strike them out. Obviously those are the easiest things,” said Smith, a rising senior at Benedictine College Prep in Goochland, Va. “I just try to make them hit it on the ground and let my defense work. It’s nice to strike out the side, but the pressure gives you a good feeling when you get out of it.”

Let’s rewind to the first play of the game, a genuine omen that scoring would be difficult. Southies leadoff hitter Garnett Power ripped a grounder up the middle which appeared destined for center field. Makos shortstop Jayden Cruz cut the ball off behind second base by sliding on his knees with his back to the infield, got up, spun and threw out Power. 

The Makos claimed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first on Johnny Payne’s fielder’s choice RBI. That was all the Makos could get even though Smith walked the first three batters he faced. Smith sandwiched that fielder’s choice with two strikeouts to avoid further damage.

And so it went for the Makos, who continued to mount rallies, and the Southies, who continued to squash those rallies. 

The Southies tied the game in the top of the sixth after Jack Sams singled to right and Grayson Palmore reached on a bunt to lead off the inning. Conner Sprouse followed with another bunt and an errant throw sailed past third base in an attempt to get the force out, allowing Sams to score. 

“We didn’t change our approach the whole day,” Irby said. “Small ball plays.”

That was the only run, albeit unearned, which Maguire allowed. The rising senior from the Portsmouth Abbey School in Portsmouth, R.I., faced the minimum over the first five innings before the Southies manufactured that run in the sixth.

Maguire also pitched a clean seventh and finished his complete game effort with one unearned run on four hits and no walks with seven strikeouts. 

“Levi is not a hard thrower, and I use him as an example for all the other pitchers,” Cahill said. “He changes speeds really well, he locates, he creates movement, and pitches to contact. He’s not trying to strike anybody out and he takes advantage of his defense, and we have a good defense.”

Maguire, who mixes a two-seam, cutter and changeup with equal measure, said he revels in the fact that he’s not a high-velocity pitcher and that he can still get batters out using his guile. 

“It is very satisfying,” Maguire said of seeing hitters frustrated against him despite his low velocity fastball. “I love seeing the weak little ground balls. I love it. Hey, it gets it done.”

Maguire gave credit to Smith and Proctor for pitching out of trouble, but, like his coach, wished the Makos were more successful with runners on base.

The Ocean State squad stranded 10 baserunners. In fact, the fourth inning was the only frame in which a Makos batter didn’t reach base safely. 

“They don’t have an approach,” Cahill said. “Their approach is to hit bombs, and the reason you have this mentality is because you see it in the big leagues. The big leagues are at an all time low in batting average historically, like .230. It’s all about exit velocity, metrics and all that stuff. We’re not playing the game the way it should be played. 

“These kids say I need more BP. I say you don’t need more BP, you need to know how to think. You need to be mentally tough. You need an approach. The best hitters in the game have an approach. They’re called professional hitters.”

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