Commerce High School’s starting three pitchers pinpoint one game as changing the way their team views its role in the region championship hunt.
It came on Tuesday, March 6, at Hebron Christian Academy in Dacula, where the defending state champion Lions battled the Tigers to a 1-0 finish.
Hebron edged Commerce on the scoreboard. But the Tigers took the moral victory.
“We kind of came together as a team after that,” said junior pitcher Robert Hayes (3-0, 1.74 ERA). “We had a chance to win that game.”
Added teammate Colton Davis: “We played the best of the best and they beat us by one run. We felt like we won that game except for the scoreboard.”
Davis (2-1, 0.689 ERA) started the game on the mound, allowing just one run on one hit while striking out 10 batters and walking three. He and
his Tiger teammates, meanwhile, combined for nine hits off stellar pitching from Hebron’s highly regarded arms.
Though they only managed one run that game, Commerce batters have produced more than 49 runs since. The team’s string of five consecutive victories moved the Tigers (8-3, 5-1) into a solid third place position in Region 8-A. (The Tigers extended their win streak to six Tuesday, with their 3-2 win over George Walton Academy in eight innings.)
Many of those runs have come in the early innings, suggesting to coach Steve Cotrell and his top pitchers that Commerce has begun attacking the game as opposed to the opposing players, one of the coach’s key philosophies.
“We’re more aggressive, especially at the bottom of the lineup, our seven, eight and nine guys,” Cotrell said. “With our pitching, if we score 10-11 runs we’re not going to lose too many games.”
Entering Tuesday’s game with George Walton, the Tigers were on a 5-0 run since March 8 with a string of Region 8-A wins against Athens Academy, Athens Christian, Riverside Military and Lakeview Academy as well as Region 8-AA’s Banks County. Only George Walton (10-2, 7-0) and Hebron (8-1, 5-0) are ahead of them. (Results of the Tigers’ Tuesday meeting with George Walton were not available by press time.)
Sam Lewis (1-1, 2.1 ERA) is Commerce’s third starter behind senior Davis, who is acknowledged by Cotrell as the team’s power pitcher. Junior Hayes, meanwhile, is a trustworthy ace who pitches to weak contact. In his team’s 12-0 route over Riverside Military Academy last week, Hayes threw a complete game with only 74 pitches.
On offense, Colton (.514, 21 RBI), third baseman Cody Streetman (.517, 10 RBI) and Josh Swistak (.474, 15 RBI) lead the team. Each player has three homeruns.
Also making an impact are sophomores Chandler Rogers at second base and Keenan Lord at shortstop. They are both hitting and producing some excellent defense, their teammates say.
Overall, the coach said his players have reduced their errors to one or one-and-a-half a game on average as opposed to the four to six errors a game Commerce surrendered at the beginning of the season.
“That’s a huge difference,” Cotrell said. “When we were struggling at 3-3, we had 30 runs scored on us in six games. Twenty of those were unearned. In our last five games we’ve given up three unearned runs in five games. That’s something in high school baseball.”
Fortifying the pitching staff are Swistak, Streetman and Lord, who come in at as relief and also start. Lord (1-0) recently posted a no-hitter through five innings against Banks County in Homer. Commerce won that game 12-0.
Cotrell said his team is focused on getting through the first round of region games, with rematches against Towns County and Hebron Christian scheduled for March 30 and April 3.
The second set of games against Region 8-A teams serves as tiebreakers to even records, if necessary.
“One win will not decide our fate,” Cotrell said.
However true, his starting pitchers may not share his view from their perch on the mound.
“You take the blame as pitcher. If you win, it’s a good job,” Hayes said. “If you lose, it’s all on you.”
Tuesday, March 13
Commerce 4, Athens Christian 1 — Chandler Rogers 2-3, Cody Streetman, 2-2, 3 RBI.
Thursday, March 15
Commerce 12, Riverside Military 0 — Cody Streetman 4-5, 3RBI , HR; Colton Davis 2-4, 2RBI; Robert Hayes 2-3, 2RBI.
Friday, March 16
Commerce 11, Lakeview Academy 4—Colton Davis 2-4, 2 RBI; drew Whitfield 2-4, 1 RBI; Tyler Southerland 1-3, HR, 3 RBI. Note: Josh Swistak struck out nine batters in three innings to get the win.
Saturday, March 17
Commerce 12, Banks County 0—Chandler Rogers 2-4; Cody Streetman 1-2; Josh Swistak 1-2, 2RBI; Colton Davis 2-3, HR, 2 RBI; Tyler Southerland 2-1, 3 RBI.