HUGHESVILLE — The hits have kept on coming for the Northwest Mustangs lately.
In a pair of district wins this week, the Mustangs scored 14 runs in each game, capped off by Wednesday’s 14-6 win over Leeton to claim the Class 1, District 13 championship.
“We struggled the first half of the season putting balls in play, but now one through nine we’re putting the ball in play,” said junior first baseman Cortlen Austin.
The Mustangs (7-8) are also getting smarter about where they put the ball in play.
“We’re finally understanding the concept of hitting to the opposite field,” said Northwest coach Justin Wiskur. “Instead of lunging and all of our weight being out front, we have been working tirelessly on letting the ball get deep and hitting the ball that way, because I would say 90 percent of the pitches we see are on the outside corner. That’s what most high school pitchers are trying to do. We were getting ourselves out early in the season because we were just rolling the ball over. Now we’re letting the ball get deep and hitting to the opposite field.”
Of the more than two dozen hits the Mustangs knocked out in their two district wins, Wiskur estimates that about half were to the opposite field. The key to that has been recognizing the outside pitch and making in-game adjustments if a pitcher likes to work inside.
At the forefront of the attack has been Austin, who hit a pair of triples in Tuesday’s win over La Monte and a pair of home runs and six RBIs in Wednesday’s win over Leeton.
“I’ve been working on trying to get relaxed and seeing as many pitches as I can,” Austin said.
Wiskur is seeing Austin hit to all fields.
“(On Wednesday), that first home run was to dead left,” Wiskur said. “Earlier this season, he was having a little bit of trouble getting his hands around on that inside pitch. These last five games it looks like a beach ball to him. Even the balls he’s fouling off, he’s fouling straight back.”
It hasn’t just been Austin. In the district final, Andrew Underwood went 3 for 5 and scored four runs. The day before, it was Cody Wicker and Trey Green homering, with Wicker driving in five runs.
“As a team we have a lot more confidence,” Austin said.
The offensive explosion has helped the pitching staff, like Green, whose win over Leeton improved his record to 6-0 on the year.
“It helps keep the nerves down,” Green said of the offensive support.
Coach Wiskur said Green doesn’t overpower hitters, but he does have a two-seem fastball with plenty of movement.
“It’s been huge to have Trey Green,” Wiskur said.
Another big part of the Northwest pitching staff is Quincy Wicker.
“We’ve found him late in the season as a pitcher, and he throws harder than anyone else we have pitching right now,” coach Wiskur said.
Northwest had to go searching for another pitcher after Austin tore his labrum. Austin said he is still able to swing a bat with no pain, but the injury has kept him off the mound and moved him away from shortstop, where he saw action when he wasn’t pitching.
“We moved a lot of guys around,” Austin said. “We had to move me to first base, which put other guys in positions that they weren’t used to, and they were the ones that really stepped up.”
Austin said he plans to have surgery to repair the labrum, which will keep him off the football field for much of the fall, but he wasn’t about to let the injury keep him away from baseball.
“I’m going to try and do as much as I can to help the team do what our No. 1 goal was, and our No. 1 goal was to win district,” he said. “We did that, and now we’re moving on, seeing how far we can take this.”
The Mustangs will have a tough test on Monday. In the sectional, Northwest will face Santa Fe (10-3), a team that won its two district games while scoring 38 runs. The Mustangs know they can’t help Santa Fe by making mistakes.
“Playing good, strong defense the whole game, that’s what it will take,” Green said. “We won’t be able to have many errors. Everybody will have to come play.”
The teams have met before, a 10-5 Santa Fe win on March 19.
“In that game, we had the bases loaded twice and didn’t get a run home, and we had second and third once and didn’t get a run home,” Wiskur said. “Going into the bottom of the sixth, it was a 7-5 ballgame, and then we gave up two solo shots and they scored another run in the bottom of the sixth. We talked about the opportunities we squandered away.”
Even seeing the offensive numbers Santa Fe has put up recently, Wiskur said the Mustangs will come out ready to play.
“We’re going to have to keep them off balance, and we’re going to have to play error-free defense behind the pitchers,” he said. “I think if we can do that, it’ll be a close game. We’ll see if the bats can get going.”
The Mustangs will host Santa Fe at 5 p.m. Monday.
CLASS 1 SECTIONAL: Santa Fe at Northwest
5 p.m. Monday in Hughesville