BY JEFF FALK
Matt Kern is a strikeout artist. He pitches creatively, paints corners and allows his natural talent to flow.
On Thursday afternoon at Fifth Ward Athletic Field, Kern sculpted a masterpiece for the Lebanon Catholic baseball team. The hard-chucking, 6-4 righthander pitched the Beavers to a 7-0 triumph over Lancaster Country Day.
Kern fanned 15 batters, did not issue a walk, surrendered four hits and finished what he started. All that on 102 pitches.
The victory lifted Lebanon Catholic to 2-2 on the year. At 0-3, Lancaster Country Day is still searching for its initial win of the young campaign.
“He threw 102 pitches, which is where we need to keep him,” said Lebanon Catholic’s rookie head coach, Scott Hargett. “That means he’s throwing strikes. I’d rather not have him strike as many people out because that takes a lot of pitches. But Matt’s a strikeout pitcher.
“We lost on Tuesday, but it was to a team that beat us,” Hargette continued. “I don’t know if they were the better team, but on that day they were. I think the confidence on the team goes up when Matt pitches.”
It was easy to see why.
Kern recorded at least one strikeout in every frame, whiffed the side in the first, third and fifth innings and set down LCD in order on four different ocassions. At one point from the fourth through the seventh, the sophomore retired nine batters in-a-row.
Kern was really only in danger of losing his shutout twice, one of which was in the top of the seventh when Lancaster Country Day advanced runners to second and third. But Kern returned to his old K-friend to douse the flame.
“The key for him is just to keep the bal down,” said Hargett. “If he keeps the ball down in the zone, no one’s going to hit it down there.”
Offensively, the Beavers scratched every Kern would need in the bottom of the first inning. Lead-off hitter Andrew Hainly singled, was balked to second and came around to score on an error.
Lebanon Catholic parlayed Ian Long’s lead-off single in the third inning into a 2-0 advantage. Long stole second and later scored on another LCD miscue.
“This was our best outing so far,” said Hargett. “We scored more runs in a game, but this was the best we hit. We’ve been working the last couple of games on being aggressive. But we knew with Matt pitching you don’t need a whole lot of runs.
“With the change in the bats,” Hargett added, “there’s going to be a lot of balls hit deep. And we’re not going to hit the ball deep anyway. We’re going to have to bunt and steal bases. We have five guys who can run.”
Things got a bit more comfortable for the Beavers in the fourth inning, when they padded their lead to 5-0 on three consecutive two-out hits. The heart of the Lebanon Catholic order – Long, Matt Schirato and Nick Culbert – got the job done.
“Most of them I knew already, from coaching teeners,” said Hargett, who’s also headed the VFW #23 entrant in the Lebanon City-County Teener League for the past 18 years. “I knew most everybody, and they knew me. Matt’s seen both sides of me.”
Lebanon Catholic plated its final runs in the fifth, on a Hainly single and a wild pitch. Speaking of Hainly, the Beavers’ southpaw shortstop, he went three-for-three on the afternoon with three runs scored.
Meanwhile, teammate Long collected two other of LC’s nine safeties.
“These guys have played for me and I knew their strengths and weaknesses,” said Hargett. “I told them in the gym, ‘If we’re not district champs, I should be fired.’ This team has been to districts the last three years, so I don’t want to screw it up. But I’d like us to win a couple more games in districts.”