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Baseball: Fernandez fans 14 as West blanks North 3-0
West Forsyth junior Luke Fernandez delivers a pitch Monday during the Wolverines' 3-0 win against North Forsyth. - photo by David Roberts

West Forsyth coach Jim Ernst wanted to know how Luke Fernandez looked in his bullpen session prior to Monday's game at North Forsyth.

So, when Ernst asked assistant coach Mike Pruitt what he thought, Pruitt responded by telling him that Fernandez's changeup was working better than he'd ever seen. 

Fernandez spent the next two hours proving Pruitt right.

Fernandez struck out 14 batters and gave up just one hit against North, posting a complete-game shutout and handing West a 3-0 win in its first Region 6-7A game of the season.

"Last week we watched him pitch at LakePoint and he had 15 strikeouts, and we sort of expected the same thing going into tonight," Ernst said. "He didn't disappoint. He's fantastic. Every time he takes the mound we expect to win."

Fernandez fanned four of the first six batters he faced, striking out the side in the second and seventh innings.

Drew Southern provided all the support Fernandez needed in the first inning when his sacrifice fly scored Gavin Culberson. Southern added another RBI in the sixth inning with a bases-loaded single, which brought home Jake Fernandez. 

"He had that sac fly in the first inning and got that run home," Ernst said of Southern, "which was a big run for us, because when we've got [Fernandez] on the mound, and we get a one-run lead, we feel pretty good — just like anybody would with an ace on the mound."

Luke Fernandez ran into some trouble in the third inning when North had runners on second and third with one out after a pair of walks and a wild pitch.

But a failed squeeze attempt allowed West to hang up Casen Blackburn between third and home, with Fernandez applying the tag.

And after another walk gave North runners on the corners with two outs, Fernandez managed to get Jess Ackerman to go down swinging. 

Fernandez only got better from there, allowing just one baserunner — a Michael Sills single in the fourth — and striking out eight of the next 13 batters he faced.

Fernandez unleashed one of his fastest pitches of the night with one out in the seventh, getting Sills to climb the ladder with a third-strike fastball, then painted the outside corner to get Andrew Elkhill looking to end the game.

"He's sitting 92, maybe, and then that changeup comes in at 69," Ernst said. "How do you defend that?"

Fernandez now owns a 2.70 ERA this season with 39 strikeouts across 20 innings pitched.

North starter Brett Barfield was excellent through 6 2/3 innings, giving up three unearned runs on four hits, while striking out eight. 

"He did a great job," North coach Jim Cahill said. "We've got to clean up a few things defensively and maybe it's a different ballgame. Granted, their kid did a great job and filled up the zone."

North's defense committed two errors, each miscue leading to a West run. 

West was also luckier at times. 

Up 2-0 in the sixth inning, Robert Bottoms took off from third base on a squeeze play. Carson Boldt couldn't make contact with the pitch, but Bottoms charged home anyway. Luckily for West, the ball bounced away from catcher Michail Harris, allowing Bottoms to slide home safely, just ahead of the tag. 

"That's part of what we did tonight," Ernst said. "We got three sacrifice bunts, then we executed that squeeze, and so that's a good team win. We like to say that's a good team win, because we're giving up our at-bats to do something useful for the team."

Monday's game also featured several defensive highlights. 

Southern made an impressive play in the fifth inning when he came charging in from third base to corral a slow roller, making an off-balance throw to nab Logan Curry at first.

Tyler Triche made back-to-back tremendous plays at shortstop in the fourth inning.

First, he showed off his range by making a leaping stab on a bouncer up the middle, throwing to first in time to beat Luke Fernandez. Then, on the next play, Triche left his feet and backhanded a ground ball, popping up and firing to first to get Boldt.

"He's been our defensive anchor at short," Cahill said. "He's done a great job."

West (6-6, 1-0 Region 6-7A) and North (7-5, 0-1 Region 6-7A) will meet again Wednesday in the second game of the series.

"This region's going to be tough, from top to bottom," Cahill said. "There's some great pitchers in the whole region. We've got a couple, there's some at South and Central, and West has a good one, for sure. There's going to be a lot of 1-0, 2-0, 3-0 games this year."