Strong Pitching Leads Cardinal Gibbons to Win Over Nova
The Cardinal Gibbons Chiefs (2-4) secured their first home win of the season on Tuesday as dominant pitching propelled them to a 5-0 shutout over the Nova Titans (2-3).
Sophomore right-hander Michael Kass got the start for the Chiefs and wasted little time setting the tone for the afternoon. He struck out six of the first seven batters he faced en route to earning his first win at the high school level. In four innings of work, Kass allowed just two hits and one walk while striking out seven. Fatigue began to set in, and while Kass said he might have been able to go back out there for the fifth, he had no problem turning the ball over to junior left-hander Cole Cozzolino.
“For a team that’s 1-4, it’s really nice to have a guy come out and go 1-2-3 and get us back in there to hit,” Chiefs manager Jason Hamilton said after the game. “That’s always nice when you have that during any inning, but it was nice to see [Kass] get a win today, too. He pitched really well against West Broward and in middle relief so far, but this was actually the first win of his high school career so we can’t overlook that.”
Cozzolino, who made his return from injury on Tuesday, picked up where Kass left off. The lefty fanned another three Titans in two innings of relief, and his only blemish on the afternoon came when he plunked a batter in the top of the sixth.
It was also in the sixth inning that Tugg Hollandsworth delivered the final nail in the coffin in the form of a solo home run to deep left-center. A loud clang rang out as the ball nailed the scoreboard similar to the way a bell is rung at the conclusion of a boxing match. Hitting to the opposite field was something Hollandsworth focused on during batting practice this week after struggling at the plate in the first few games of the season.
“Early on, I was just having some timing issues,” Hollandsworth said. “I wanted to crush it on the pull side and I wasn’t staying back. I started off this game doing the same thing, but then I made the adjustment. I brought my hands down a bit and took the ball the other way.”
After the dinger, closing things out was just a formality for Gibbons. Hamilton turned to right-hander sophomore Tyler Anderten for the seventh. He struck out two and picked off the only batter he allowed on base. The Chiefs have faced some elite talent in the early goings this season, but this win has the team hopeful that better days are ahead.
“At the beginning of the year, we ran the gauntlet of the schedule,” he said. “We had Douglas, we had West Broward and we had Taravella. That’s three of the best teams in the state on our schedule and we played them tough. We just didn’t swing the bats, we didn’t have timely hitting and we didn’t execute defensive plays. Everybody knows we’re a solid team. We’re solid, we just have to execute in those three phases going forward.”
If the Chiefs continue to pitch the way all three pitchers did against Nova, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the wins start to pile up. This Gibbons team may lack some of the power previous clubs have had, but Hamilton knows that they are capable of putting up some big numbers on only a few hits just as they did in this one.
“That’s kind of our game,” he said. “We usually average about four, five or six hits and try to manufacture things. We don’t have the bangers we’ve had in the past, so we have to manufacture runs. Got to try and squeeze here and there, got to try and hit and run and got to try and slash and run, which we tried all game long. It didn’t work today, but that’s kind of our game.”
The goal is to prepare for the postseason by the time it rolls around, and Hollandsworth thinks the sky is the limit for this team.
“My goal is to definitely hit more home runs and to be more consistent hitting line drives gap-to-gap,” he said. “As far as the team, I think a lot of people are sleeping on us right now. We’ve played a lot of good teams so far, but I really think that we have the potential to come together and to go really far in the playoffs.”
On the other side of the diamond, Titans manager Brian Luebkert is still trying to figure out what went wrong after a solid start to the season. It’s the first time Nova’s been shut out this season, and it only happened twice in 2021 — one being against Cardinal Gibbons.
“You never expect this,” Luebkert said. “Especially with how hard we’ve practiced. You expect the kids to execute in the situations that we put in front of them, and we need to get better. Practice harder so we can keep getting better.”
Starter Nick Evans tried to keep the Titans in the game as long he could. He worked through some early command issues in the first and Nova was only down by one run for the majority of the afternoon. The floodgates opened up in the fifth after an error allowed the leadoff batter to reach base. Evans then hit a batter before handing the ball over to junior Gavin Mcclure for the rest of the game. Evans took the loss with three runs scoring under his watch, although only two of them were earned.
“Command was a problem early on, but I started to throw strikes again after relaxing,” Evans said. “I just had to let my defense do the work and have some trust in them.”
Nova has three days of practice before traveling to Flanagan on Monday. In that time, the Titans are likely to focus on hitting and putting the ball in play.
“In high school baseball, you’ve got to put the ball in play and make the defense make plays,” Luebkert said. “If you’re going to strike out, then it’s easy coasting for them. We have to learn to make more contact, execute our bunts and run the bases a little better.”
When asked what the team needs to work on to win a ballgame like this one, Evans echoed the sentiments of his skipper. Fixing the small things is paramount for Nova if the team wants to be successful.
Despite this loss, Luebkert believes that this team is capable of much more on the baseball field. It’s always better to have issues early on than down the stretch because the team has a chance to iron out the kinks. Flanagan won’t be a walk in the park, but Nova should be competitive if the team can get put the bat on the ball.
“We’re still young,” he said. “People don’t realize that. We’re a young bunch of kids and we’re still learning, so every day is an adventure. We’ll just have to continue to outwork everyone to get where we want.”