Hart baseball rebounds against Golden Valley

Hart's Matt Elser (5) watches his hit during a baseball game against Golden Valley on Friday. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Considering all the time he spent away from the mound last year, it’d be hard to blame Bryce Collins for not wanting to leave it Friday.

Hart’s junior righty, who didn’t throw for at least seven months in 2016 due to a back injury, tossed a complete-game two-hitter in a 6-0 home win over Golden Valley – a start that punctuated coach Jim Ozella’s belief that Collins gets better each outing.

“I think he’s starting to regain his strength,” Ozella said of Collins, who holds a 2.49 ERA through 39 1/3 innings this year. “He’s been getting better with maintaining his angle throughout the game. Today was quality. Obviously, seven zeros is what you want.”

Collins suffered a stress fracture to his back in January 2016. He tried to pitch through it but was shut down before the end of the spring.

He says he didn’t throw from April until roughly November.

Hart’s Bryce Collins (21) throws a pitch during a baseball game against Golden Valley on Friday. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

“I started playing catch just on a knee,” Collins said, “and I didn’t start throwing off the mound until December.”

Friday, he reared back and delivered live fastballs, working the ball down in the zone at times and elevating it at others, to Golden Valley’s displeasure.

The Indians (14-10 overall, 6-5 in Foothill League) were the ones shaking their heads Wednesday after the Grizzlies (8-13, 3-8) scored two runs on a Hart throwing error in the bottom of the seventh inning to walk-off with a 4-3 win.

It was the fifth time Hart’s been walked off on this season, according to Ozella, who says the late-game dramatics have had more to do with the Indians not taking care of business earlier in games than with one game-ending play.

Thursday, his team took that to heart. The Indians scored five runs in the third inning.

Seven singles and three Golden Valley errors did the damage.

Hart’s Josh Cerpa finished the day 2-for-2, while Grant Thuente went 3-for-3 with an RBI.

Thuente, who shined last season but got off to a tough start in 2017, has improved his pitch selection of late, he says, and is looking to hit to all fields.

“It seems to me like he’s having fun again,” Ozella said.

Collins must have enjoyed Friday, too. The University of Arizona commit struck out six, walked one and didn’t allow a hit after the third inning.

“He had control of the zone,” Thuente said. “His fastball was working. His off-speed, once he gets ahead, is just filthy.”

Golden Valley catcher Matt Broadwater tags Hart’s Grant Thuente (8) out on his way to home plate during a baseball game at Hart. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

Collins’ outing was timely for a Hart team battling for third in league standings and entering a two-game series with Saugus next week.

The much-improved Grizzlies play Valencia. To finish .500 overall and remain eligible for the CIF playoffs, according to the Southern Section’s playoff bulletin, the Grizzlies would need to win their five remaining games.

“We still talk about (the playoffs),” said Golden Valley coach Steve Lombardi. “It’s still something we definitely think about. But we know we have to take care of business one game at a time, too.”

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