WASHINGTON TWP. – It would not be an understatement to say Nick Hammer is pitching beyond his years.
Watching Hammer perform on the mound with the apparent composure of a seasoned veteran, it’s hard to believe he is only a freshman at Washington Township High School.
“Nick is a competitor,” said Washington Township coach Bill Alvaro. “That’s the first thing that stands out about him. When he’s got the ball at game-time, he’s pretty good.”
Hammer ran his record to 2-0 Thursday when he went the distance as the Minutemen gained a 3-2 victory over Lenape in an Olympic Conference American Division baseball game.
He allowed six hits and pitched out of couple of jams, including one with the potential tying run on second base in the seventh inning.
Hammer struck out nine, two of them coming with the heat in the final inning. He did not allow any walks for the game.
A veteran of many youth league games, Hammer said he does not worry about taking charge when runners are on base.
“I feel like I’m better under pressure,” he said. “It’s a better atmosphere. I knew if I just threw strikes my teammates would back me up.”
Alvaro stopped short of calling Hammer his ace, the coach saying the team has four pitchers who are capable of winning games.
However, the coach credited Hammer for stepping up when the team needed a momentum change, following a loss to Seneca on Wednesday.
“We talked about how we needed Nicky to be the stopper,” Alvaro said. “He needed to be `that guy.’ It was his turn to pitch and we needed him to make sure that one loss didn’t get compounded.”
While Hammer was good on the mound, he got just enough offensive support to secure the win.
Township’s biggest hit came from Alex Gattinelli, a senior who gave the Minutemen the lead for good with a two-run homer in the first inning.
The Minutemen then scored what proved to be the winning run off hard-luck loser Mike Audet in the second inning.
Aiden Aguila led off the inning with a single, moved up on a pass ball and a ground out and scored on an RBI single by Christian Kane.
According to Hammer, having Gattinelli give the team an early lead was important.
“It got me relaxed,” he said. “After that I knew I just had to throw strikes.”
Despite Hammer’s lack of experience on the varsity level, Gattinelli said the youngster has the full support of his teammates.
“He’s great,” Gattinelli said. “He pounds the zone and he hits his spots. He throws hard and he throws strikes, that’s what you’re supposed to do at the varsity level.
“When he does miss his spots, it’s very rare. He’s really going to be a good pitcher, and we’ve got his back 100 percent.”
Hammer was able to limit the damage against Lenape throughout the game with one exception.
Lenape’s Steve Cotoni supplied the Indians’ offense with a home run in the second inning, and an RBI single in the fourth.
Hammer gave up three of his six hits in the fourth inning, but avoided further damage by recording a strikeout with runners on second and third base.
In the seventh inning, Hammer gave up a leadoff single to Sean Burycha, who moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. But Hammer struck out two straight to end the game.
“The one thing we preach is if the pitcher doesn’t make a pitch, the fielders have to pick him up,” said Alvaro. “In this game, we made a couple of mistakes in the field and Nicky picked them up.”
Meanwhile after falling behind on the scoreboard , Audet shut down the Minutemen the rest of the way.
He allowed only three base runners over the final four innings, and he got out of one jam of his own, stranding Kane at third base after he had tripled.
Audet gave up only five hits for the game, but the damage was already done.