BASEBALL: Gagliardo strikes out 10 to lead Coal City past Manteno
COAL CITY — Coal City southpaw Keegan Gagliardo has spent the past couple of years terrorizing lineups across the area, but Friday’s performance was arguably the senior’s best outing yet and certainly his most efficient.
Gagliardo was nearly untouchable, allowing just a pair of hits and a walk to go along with 10 strikeouts in five innings of work, while the Coalers’ bats caught fire in their 14-8 victory against Manteno.
The Coalers improved to 13-2 on the season, while the Panthers dropped to 7-5.
“I was just hitting my spots inside and outside,” Gagliardo said. “My curveball was breaking really well. That’s probably my No. 1 strikeout pitch, and it was working well today.”
But the deuce wasn’t all Gagliardo had working for him Friday. Gagliardo also was getting devastating movement from his changeup, and with the two off-speed pitches adding to his fastball, Gagliardo displayed pinpoint precision with whatever he threw.
“Keegan’s just been around the plate,” Coalers coach Greg Wills said. “He can grab a strike with his fastball, and, today, he had command of three pitches. And when he’s got command of three pitches, he’s pretty tough.”
And while Gagliardo was dealing on the mound, the Coalers crushed at the plate. They scored 14 runs for the second time in as many days, led by leadoff hitter Payton Hutchings’ 4-for-4 day at the plate, including a double, a triple, five runs and an RBI.
Wills said Hutchings and the rest of the Coalers’ lineup has started heating up this week, with their ability to wait back and drive pitches on the outside part of the zone to the opposite field.
“I think that our struggles early were kids opening up too early, kids trying to pull,” Wills said. “As the year’s gone on, we’ve been getting pitched away more; guys are starting to use the middle of the field, and we’re getting the barrels (on the ball).”
The Coalers broke it open in the second inning, where they batted around and scored six runs, giving them a 7-0 lead in the early going. Panthers coach Matt Beckner acknowledged that’s a steep hole to climb out of, especially against a pitcher such as Gagliardo.
“It’s tough when you fall behind to a team like this, and to score runs on their pitching staff is a hard thing to do,” Beckner said.
But after Gagliardo, who was on a 75-pitch limit, exited after throwing 68 pitches in five innings, the Panthers were able to find some big hits against the Coalers reliever Connor Best, scoring all eight of their runs in the final two frames, including a three-run homer from Dan Barrios in the seventh.
“We could have rolled over, and we didn’t, we kept battling and battling,” Beckner said. “Our kids didn’t take those at-bats for granted.”
Hutchings wasn’t the only Coaler to collect four hits, as Jack Bunton went 4-for-5 with a stolen base, two runs and two RBIs.
Austin Pullara went 3-for-5 with a stolen base, two runs and four RBIs. Gagliardo helped his own cause by going 1-for-2 with a pair of RBIs.
Barrios led the Panthers, going 2-for-5 with that three-run blast, a double, two runs and five RBIs. Camen Rodriguez also had two hits. Anthony Lopez doubled and scored twice.
Both teams have quick turnarounds, playing again today. The Coalers take on nonconference rival Morris at 10 a.m. in Coal City, a game Wills said the team has been anticipating.
“We’ve had this one circled on the calendar for a while now,” Wills said. “It’s a local rivalry, and we’re both having nice years, so it’s a big one.”
The Panthers play a pair of games at Kankakee Community College today, taking on Paxton-Buckley-Loda at 10 a.m. and Tremont at 2 p.m. as they look to recover from what is now a three-game losing streak after dropping a pair to Wilmington prior to Friday.
“You’ve just got battle everyday, and (the team) understands,” Beckner said. “Like we talked about with Wilmington, we had a chance to get them the next day, and with these guys, there’s a shot to play Coal City again. Tomorrow, we won’t have a chance to play those guys again, so hopefully we come out and get them the first time.”