Pitchers provide powerful 1-2 punch|[05/01/08]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 1, 2008

One uses power from his rocket right arm to mow down batters.

The other uses more strategy from the mound, spotting his fastball and keeping batters off balance with a nasty curve.

Together, Ryno Martin-Nez and Stephen Evans have given St. Aloysius such a dominant 1-2 punch the bullpen has yet to see any action in the Class 1A state playoffs.

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Of course they both agree that the upcoming series with East Webster — one of the powerhouses in 1A baseball — likely will not see just two pitchers. Make no mistake, though. East Webster will see these two with Martin-Nez taking the hill in Friday’s opener on the road in Maben and Evans on the bump Saturday. If a deciding third game is needed, Joseph Brown will get the rawhide.

“Both of them have pitched really well,” catcher Sean Weaver said. “This series we will have to change up some looks because East Webster is a good hitting team. Our guys have pitched great for us in the playoffs, but we likely will have to use more arms this time.”

Martin-Nez started the season by pitching the Flashes to a 1-0 victory over division rival Stringer, a precursor for what was to come. He has allowed nine earned runs in 59 innings for a miniscule 1.07 ERA with an 8-2 record and 91 strikeouts.

“He can control all his pitches and controls himself on the mound,” Evans said of the sophomore Martin-Nez, who was named Ryno as a tribute to Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame shortstop Ryne Sandberg. “He doesn’t get rattled.”

Martin-Nez, who plays shortstop when not pitching, delivered the Flashes to victories over Bogue Chitto and Ethel, taking the first game of each series.

Evans breezed through Bogue Chitto and struggled early against Ethel, but survived a first-inning jam and shut the Tigers down the rest of the way. Nicknamed “Red” for his bright red hair, Evans has been nearly as impressive on the stat sheet. He is 8-1 with a 1.85 ERA, has walked only nine and struck out 59.

“He throws strikes and spots up great,” Martin-Nez said of Evans. “He doesn’t walk a lot of people which helps him out a lot. He doesn’t let people get on base and that helps the defense.”

Both agreed that getting off to a quick start offensively is a key against East Webster. Players and coaches agree that East Webster will hit the ball. The Wolverines 10-run ruled Eupora pitcher Devin Jones, a Mississippi State signee, and carry a 19-8 record into Friday’s opener.

“They stroke it well, especially the last third of the season. They swing it one through nine as well as anyone we have seen,” St. Al assistant coach Trey Clark said. “They are sound defensively and their pitching staff is not overpowering, but they keep the ball down and get outs.

“This will definitely be a challenge for our pitching staff. I don’t think that’s a team that we are just going to go up there and shut down. It’s a series we know we will have to score runs to win.”

Through 28 games, St. Al has averaged 8.8 runs per game. They have a team batting average of .280, led by Martin-Nez’s .429 hitting. He’s followed by Blake Haygood (.357), Brendan Beesley (.337) and Evans (.321). Weaver and Pierson Waring are both hitting better than .300.

“We have to come around with the sticks to beat these guys,” Weaver said.

Weaver was the starting catcher two years ago when the Flashes and Wolverines met in the playoffs in a series filled with intensity and a few contentious moments. Weaver remembers the series well, although not too fondly.

“I know we’ll be passionate,” Weaver said. “This is the furthest I have ever been in the playoffs and I am not ready to stop playing this week. Hopefully, we can come out and take care of things.”

With a win over East Webster, St. Al will play either archrival Cathedral or Stringer, the team’s toughest division rival which beat out St. Al for first place in Division 7-1A by run differential.