Pitching and defense fueled Hardaway baseball’s strong end to the regular season. On Thursday, those aspects of the Hawks’ game were put on full display yet again.
Hardaway got excellent play in its doubleheader sweep over Westover, as pitchers Jonathan Manibusan and Mykel Page eached threw no-hitters. Manibusan shut down Westover in the 9-0 victory in Game 1 before Page came through with a similar performance in the Hawks’ 11-0 Game 2 win.
“The two guys we ran out there, they both give us a really good chance,” Hardaway head coach Chris Gilstrap said. “Obviously, we got great pitching and played good defense behind them. We found ways to get some big hits as well. We played two pretty complete games.”
Manibusan got the call for the opening game of the best-of-three series and made the most of his opportunity. He made short work of the Westover hitters, striking out eight batters and throwing 74 pitches in seven innings of work. He showed good command with his pitches as well and did not allow a walk.
If not for a dropped third strike in the third inning, Manibusan would have thrown a perfect game in the victory.
Page benefited from the second game only going five innings, but he proved just as electric as Manibusan. No stranger to standout pitching performances, Page showed off his stuff against Westover, ringing up nine strikeouts. He walked one batter in the win and threw 67 pitches, 47 of which were for strikes.
As important as the pitchers were in Hardaway’s dominant victories, the defense behind them proved just as valuable for the Hawks.
“They did strike some guys out yesterday, but there were a lot of balls put in play,” Gilstrap said. “Our defense made some good plays, our outfielders especially. It was good, complete performances by us on the mound and for us defensively.”
Eighteen hits and 20 runs for the Hawks didn’t hurt the cause, either.
Gilstrap said he was conscious about the team not overlooking Thursday’s opponent. Although Hardaway defeated Westover in the regular season 10-0, he made sure his players understood they couldn’t afford to take them lightly. With Thursday’s games being the de facto first round of the playoffs, doing so could have been disastrous.
“We wanted to play our game and play the right way,” Gilstrap said.
Hardaway hits the road for its first round series against Burke County. The first game of the doubleheader begins at 4:00 p.m Friday. If the two teams split Friday’s games, the deciding Game 3 will be played 1:00 p.m on Saturday.
If Thursday’s games were any indication, the Hawks are well prepared to hit the state tournament at full force.
“We continue to play pretty good baseball at the right time for it,” Gilstrap said.
Jordan D. Hill: 770-894-9818, @lesports