Lawrence’s offense stymied in 4-0 loss to Shawnee Mission Northwest
Lawrence High’s baseball team was stymied by another talented pitcher in a 4-0 loss to Shawnee Mission Northwest Thursday night at LHS.
The Lions managed just two hits off Shawnee Mission Northwest left-handed pitcher Ty Blecha, who spun a complete-game shutout — the latest performance in what has been a gauntlet of impressive hurlers to pitch against LHS.
“It was very difficult,” LHS head coach Brad Stoll said. “We have just run into great starting pitching over and over. Right now, our conference is loaded. He’s as good as we’ve seen.”
Looking on the bright side, Stoll said facing off against so many talented pitchers would help prepare the Lions (6-5, 3-4 Sunflower League) for the postseason. But he admitted LHS could have done a better job making Blecha work a bit more on Thursday.
“Hopefully the next time we see an arm like that, we can make him a little more uncomfortable,” Stoll said. “He was very comfortable all night.”
Blecha, who is signed to play baseball for Missouri State, retired the first 11 Lawrence batters to begin the night. The Cougars spotted Blecha a 3-0 advantage by the time senior shortstop Carlos Vasquez came through with the first hit of the game for the hosts.
Vasquez, who has been swinging the bat extremely well lately, came through with a two-out single in the top of the fourth on a ball that got by a diving second baseman. He never advanced into scoring position, however, as Cole Mondi grounded out to second to end the frame.
Lawrence catcher Karson Green started off the fifth with a leadoff single to left center, but he also never advanced past first base. The Lions had three baserunners all night and were never able to get to Shawnee Mission Northwest’s bullpen.
“Tonight, we just couldn’t get his pitch count up,” Stoll said. “We hit some ball right at them and they made some really great plays.”
Blecha demonstrated good command of his slider and was able to attack the lower part of the strike zone. He finished with six strikeouts, whiffing Braden Hoffman and Jackson Dooley two times apiece.
“It was kind of a funky delivery,” said junior pitcher Grant Cleavinger, who got a good look at Blecha from the dugout. “It was pretty clear that he had a lot of run to his baseball, and it was deceiving. He pitched us about as well as he could have.”
But it was hard not to wonder what might have been for the Lions. If they were fully healthy, Thursday might have been a classic pitchers’ duel between two stellar southpaws.
Cleavinger, Lawrence’s ace pitcher who suffered an injury late in the basketball season, made his second start of the year. He threw 50 pitches, which was a slight increase to his pitch count compared to his first start last Saturday.
The plan is to keep increasing Cleavinger’s pitch count by 10 or so with each outing as he works to get his endurance back up.
“Physically, I feel a lot better this outing,” Cleavinger said. “I felt like it felt more natural. Just kind of getting into a groove.”
Cleavinger sat down the first three batters in the first inning, including a strikeout to the leadoff batter. He recorded two quick outs in the second, but then his own throwing error led to Shawnee Mission Northwest’s first baserunner. That eventually resulted in the first run of the game.
In the third, Cleavinger gave up a pair of hits to begin the frame before inducing back-to-back popups. He managed to surrender just one run, on a double by Blake Reeder. The Cougars tacked on one more run in the fourth for good measure.
“I felt like the ball came out a lot better,” Cleavinger said. “My breaking ball was kind of off today, just kind of missing spots early. Couple hard-hit balls that they had, I left over the middle. Outside of that, I was pretty happy with how I threw.”
Cleavinger was only charged with one earned run on his final stat line and surrendered five hits. He also threw 35 of his 50 pitches for strikes before handing the ball to the bullpen. Charlie Elsten and Dooley combined to throw the final three frames.
“He probably wasn’t as sharp as he wanted to be,” Stoll said of Cleavinger. “For him, it’s just getting better every time. You know he’s going to compete. He’s a tough kid, and he showed it tonight. He battled through some things.
“Once we get him 100%, it’s going to be pretty exciting,” Stoll added.
Next, LHS will travel to Olathe South at 5:30 p.m. Monday.
SMNW 0 1 1 1 1 0 0 — 4 8 0
LHS 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 0 2 2