By Danny Lopriore
Two dozen professional baseball scouts and a large crowd of fans from both schools were on hand to see Horace Greeley pitcher Brandon Neeck and Fox Lane catcher and batting star Henry Davis face off last Thursday, but it was Fox Lane sophomore righthander Matt Lichtenberger who stole the show.
Lichtenberger allowed just one run and four hits over six innings to best Neeck, a pro prospect and University of Virginia signee, who took the loss. The Foxes, who defeated Greeley 9-8 in a thriller last Tuesday, swept the two-game season series with 6-1 victory and remained undefeated in league play with an overall record of 9-2.
“I used a fastball and curveball mostly,” Lichtenberg said. “My changeup wasn’t as good, but I made some good pitches. I tried to stay focused on my job and knew the guys would score runs for me. I try not to let things distract me. Henry’s (Davis) home run got us going.”
Fox Lane coach Matt Hillis was most impressed with his young pitcher’s poise with all the attention and speed guns pointed at Davis and Neeck.
“The atmosphere was difficult, No. 1, (Lichtenberg) fell behind on a lot of hitters, No. 2, and No. 3, he is a sophomore,” Hillis said. “Then, you have 18 scouts here. He maintained his composure, kept getting outs and kept us in the ball game.”
Neeck, who faced each batter with a swarm of scouts armed with speed guns behind the chain-link backstop, nursed a one-run led into the fourth inning before Davis cracked a long line-drive home run over the left-field fence to tie the score at 1-1. Second baseman Justin Reeves drove in left fielder Ethan Gabor with what would prove to be the winning run later in the fourth.
“To be super honest, we’re down here working our butts off on practice days, working on what our approach is going to be how we mentally approach at-bats,” Hillis said. “We have a kid like Neeck, we prepare by throwing super hard out of our pitching machine and two of us are lefties on the staff, so we throw hard and ask the kids to lock down on a fastball. When they put in another pitcher, we have to adjust to that speed, and we did that well.”
Davis, who is signed to attend the University of Louisville in the fall, changed the flow of the game when he caught his “best friend’s” slider for the game-tying home run. The senior right-handed hitter smacked two home runs in Tuesday’s 9-8 win.
“He threw me about five sliders in a row and I got that one,” said Davis, who struck out in his first at-bat. “(Neeck) is stone cold on the mound and has no emotion. We’re best friends. You can’t phase him. No matter what happened on the previous at-bat, he’s going to come at you. Adding on a run was big. When we stay in our approach, we can be tough.”
Neeck struck out eight and allowed two runs on four hits over five innings. The Quakers opened the scoring in the first inning when Alek Kevorkian walked and later scored on a single by catcher Nate Jbara. Lichtenberg locked down the Quakers over the next five innings.
Designated hitter Tom O’Sullivan stroked a two-run triple to key a four-run sixth inning as the Foxes opened a 6-1 lead. Reliever Nick Giattino, another sophomore, pitched a scoreless seventh inning to close out the Quakers.
“Coach Hillis on third base literally gave me the signs and said, ‘Hit it that way,’ and I stayed back and drove it to right-center,” O’Sullivan said. “You have to look away against a hard thrower like Neeck and make contact and it worked out for us. I didn’t need to slide, but I did. We try to be aggressive, steal bases and make things happen.”
Senior center fielder Antonio Chousa had two hits and Gabor and senior shortstop Marvin Pineda each drove in a run in the sixth inning for the Foxes.