A day after committing to Colorado Mesa University and hours after signing his letter of intent, West Ranch pitcher Cade Nicol took to the mound to play one of his best games of the season.
In the Wildcats’ 3-1 win over Hart on Friday at West Ranch, Nicol gave up just four hits while striking out five batters across seven innings.
“It looks like it,” Nicol said of if his game has improved since signing. “It’s only been a couple of days, but yeah. We’ll see.”
It was Nicol’s second complete game of the Foothill League season. Hart (9-17 overall, 4-7 in Foothill League) scored a run in the first inning as Cooper Austin was able to reach home plate on an error, but Nicol shook off the play.
In the next at-bat, Nicol forced Jakob Marquez to ground out, then the defense executed a double-play to get Kendall Thomas out at third base and Isaac Kim out at second.
“In typical Cade fashion, they kind of pushed a run across the plate, scored first to get up on first and he just doesn’t care,” said Wildcats coach Casey Burrill. “He kind of reaches down and finds his better stuff and I thought he was as good at the end of the game as he was at the start.”
Nikko Clarke was able to drive in two runs for West Ranch (20-4, 9-2) in the first inning, cracking a hit and reaching first on a fielder’s choice.
The Cats were unable to score in the next two innings, however, as Indians pitcher Warner Rhodes took control of the game. Rhodes allowed five hits and recorded four strikeouts in six innings of work.
“Warner Rhodes today pitched as well a game as has been pitched in Hart history,” said Hart coach Jim Ozella. “Really attacked the hitters, that was as good a job as anybody’s pitched since I’ve been here at Hart High School.”
Rhodes has worked his way back into a starting spot for the Indians after spending the first part of the season out with a fractured foot.
“He’s deserving now, obviously, of being in the starting rotation and he’s going to keep pitching,” Ozella said.
West Ranch was able to put up another run in the fourth inning. Ryan Farr reached third base on a Hart error but was able to drive in Ryan Ilan for a 3-1 advantage.
“It brought in an extra run for us and gave us some more momentum for the rest of the game,” Nicol said. “So he needed to see the ball land and so it was great for him.”
From that point on, Rhodes gave up just one hit and Nicol none. The latter also had the comfort of solid defense behind him, particularly the outfield of Garrett Monheim, Ryan Camacho and Jovan Camacho, to make routine plays and close out the game.
“With the wind today, it’s massive to have such a great defense behind me and so yeah, they were good all day,” Nicol said. “That’s all I needed.”
With the win, West Ranch remains in second place in the Foothill League behind Valencia, while Hart is in fourth.
While the Indians resume Foothill League play against Golden Valley after a weekend at the Redondo Tournament, the Wildcats will play Saugus at 3:30 on Tuesday. Valencia and Saugus are the only two teams to beat the Cats in league play this season.
“We’re over at Saugus in hostile territory, we and Valencia are both control our own destiny,” Burrill said. “If either one of those teams wins out, they’re the league champions and so we’re going to have to go get the next game, which is Tuesday against an opponent that’s already beat us once and has a lot to gain by beating us. So it’ll be a tough battle on Tuesday.”