PENNSAUKEN – It looks like Sky Duff’s previous role as the closer for the Bishop Eustace Prep baseball team may have come to an end – at least for now
Coach Sam Tropiano has bigger plans for the senior right-hander, who, on Wednesday, pitched the Crusaders to a 10-0 win over Cherry Hill West in an Olympic Conference game.
“No, no,” Tropiano said when asked whether Duff would continue to close games. “He’s so good as a starter and we’ve lost two starters to injuries. So we’re going to him to start some games.”
The coach’s remarks came after Duff threw a gem in his season debut as a starter.
In a five-inning game abbreviated by the 10-run rule, Duff allowed only one hit and he struck out 12 on the way to the victory.
He used a three-pitch combination of a fast ball, curve, and changeup to keep the West hitters off balance throughout the game.
“I felt like I had pretty good movement on my fast ball and I had command of my curve ball,” Duff said. “I was able to just pick my spots. Every time I go out I try to be a perfectionist on the mound. I just try to win every at bat.”
Duff’s coach was impressed.
“He was lights out,” said Tropiano. “He’s undeniably our team leader. He leads by example, he leads by his hitting, he’s a great fielder . . . He’s just a total, complete player, and the kids respect him so much.”
Wednesday marked Duff’s third appearance of the season, following relief roles in wins over Cherokee and Timber Creek. He was the team’s regular closer last season.
This year he says he’ll take on whatever role gives his team the best chance to win some games.
“I don’t really care,” he said, when asked whether he had a preference between starting and relieving. “It’s what the team needs me to do. I like closing out, being in tight situations, but I also like being in control of the whole thing – just getting the ball and getting ready to go.”
Duff’s pitching effort was supported by an offense that featured a solo home run from Matt Orlando as the second batter of the game.
Duff helped his own cause, getting on base three times and scoring a run during a three-run third inning.
Orlando said having Duff on the mound gave the team a lot of confidence when he started to pile up the strikeouts.
“He was incredible,” Orlando said. “In my three years that was the first time I’ve actually seen him start. This year we have a couple of injuries to our pitchers and he stepped up perfectly.”
Duff gave up his only hit to West leadoff man Nick DiVitro to start the third inning, but then he went on to strike out the next three batters.
He struck out the side in the first inning, and he actually had four strikeouts in the fifth after one batter fanned, but reached first base on a wild pitch.
West pitcher Eli Atiya did not perform badly, but his fielders let him down during his four-plus inning stint..
He gave up the home run to Olando in the first and then saw Eustace strike for three more in the third on the strength of only two hits, a single by Duff and an RBI single from John Piacentino.
Eustace added six runs in the fifth to invoke the 10-run rule. Again a couple errors came into play to keep the winning alive.
However, Chance Conklin contributed an RBI triple and Nick Senior delivered an RBI double to push the score to 9-0.
With the bases loaded and two out, Mike Guzzardo rocketed a shot into the left-center field gap to bring home the clinching run.
Cherry West 000 00-0
Bishop Eustace 103 06-10
WP: Sky Duff, LP: Eli Atiya
2B: Duff, Nick Senior, BE. 3B: Chance Conklin, BE.
HR: Matt Orlando, BE.