Shrine baseball team will go as far as its pitching staff can carry it

By: Mike Moore | Royal Oak Review | Published May 13, 2015

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ROYAL OAK — Pitching is the name of the game, especially with a season winding down and a playoff atmosphere quickly approaching.

As the guys on the Royal Oak Shrine baseball team prepped for a key divisional doubleheader with Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes last Monday, there was a certain calmness about the group.

With just four division games remaining, these were must wins.

And with the pitching staff that the Knights are armed with, there was very little concern.

“I really liked how we pitched and played defense,” coach Dan Noble said after his guys beat Lakes 5-0 in the first game and 4-1 in the second. “We didn’t hit much, but our pitchers were solid and our defense was very good.”

And so it’s been all season long.

“The whole staff has been good,” Noble said of his pitchers. “We’ve got three guys at the top, but really, we use anywhere from six to eight different guys, and they’ve all been very good.”

The offense has had its moments, though scoring a ton of runs isn’t the Knights’ (18-5) recipe for victory.

“Defense and pitching wins games, and we have both,” said senior Drake Eckert.

He pitched a complete game against Lakes in the first contest, allowing a single hit while striking out 12.

“The defense really backs us up,” he said. “We’ve been hitting out spots.”

Eckert has the unusual duty of working from the hill in some games and then behind the plate in others.

“It’s a pleasure to catch our pitchers,” he said.

In the pair of wins against Lakes, Eckert and Joe Lynch combined to strike out 19 hitters, which hasn’t been the norm.

“We don’t overpower too many guys,” Noble said.

Still, his staff has a team ERA below 2.0.

“They get ahead of hitters,” he added. “They keep the defense involved, and I think that’s better for everyone.”

“We’re not guys that bring a lot of velocity,” said senior Grant Sypitkowski, who was 4-0 in his first four decisions. He also had a save in relief. “I think we just do a good job of keeping the ball low in the zone. We get it over the plate and let our defense back us up.”

Shrine lost in a Catholic League quarterfinal game to heavily favored Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard and can now shift its focus to the state tournament, where it finds itself in the Division 4 district at Sterling Heights Parkway Christian.

While a draw was not available, Parkway and Shrine are the two favorites, and the Knights must be ready for a Parkway team that ended its 2014 season with a 3-0 victory.

“It’ll be a very tough district, and we know that,” Noble said. “But we have the advantage of our pitchers, and the fact we can use any guy and be confident in what he can do.”

When asked to sum up what kind of advantage the pitchers give Shrine, Eckert just smiled.

“We’re confident,” he said. “The pitchers will take us as far as we can go. And we think that’s a long way.”

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