ST. CHARLES – St. Charles North junior Cory Wright didn’t like allowing so many baserunners Friday against Neuqua Valley but the left-handed pitcher sure channeled his frustration constructively.
Wright picked off a whopping four Neuqua Valley runners at first base – one in each of the first four innings – to minimize the Wildcats’ threats in a 4-2, Upstate Eight Conference crossover win for the North Stars.
North coach Todd Genke said Wright’s pickoff move is among the slickest he’s seen, comparing it to the move of former North ace and Nebraska recruit Zach Hirsch.
“I worked on it a lot when I was younger, and it just kind of stuck,” Wright said. “It’s been the same move ever since I was 12, 13 years old.”
Wright’s move is crafty enough that it’s not unusual for him to catch a runner or two napping, but this was a sight to behold.
“Usually when I pitch that usually happens, I’ll get one or two, but I guess they didn’t really make that big of an adjustment, and I took advantage of it, so that was good,” Wright said.
Neuqua outhit North, 10-6, but was nowhere near as efficient at moving runners along, with Wright’s quartet of pickoffs factoring in heavily.
“He shuts down the running game because they can’t get a lead, and even when they do get a lead, he picks them off,” Genke said. “And they’re a good running team. They’ve got some speed, and he just shut them down. That’s a phenomenal tool to have as a pitcher.”
Playing in front of a large, vocal student section, North (8-1, 3-0 UEC River) faced a 2-0 deficit after the top of the first but took the lead for good with three runs in the bottom half of the inning.
Left fielder Nick Drawant’s RBI double cut the North Stars’ deficit to 2-1, and second baseman Riley Coomes supplied a two-run double off starting pitcher Matt Butler to put North on top.
Drawant had two doubles – similarly struck, hooking line drives down the left-field line – plus a walk in his three at-bats. He’s been happy with his offensive start to the spring.
“I’ve been working hard with my coaches, [assistant coach Brett Wikierak] has been a big part of that, my hitting coach, Bobby Roan, has been a big part of that in the offseason,” Drawant said. “I’ve just been working hard on my swing, loading early and everything like that.”
Genke said Drawant presents a pleasant problem when devising North’s batting order.
“He’s a real tough person to put in the lineup as far as where to put him because he’s our fastest kid and you’d really like to put him at the top of the lineup, but we’ve moved him kind of in the middle, in the 5-hole now, where he’s driving in runs,” Genke said. “He’s really hitting the snot out of the ball, and he’s very comfortable there.”
The North Stars added an insurance run in the bottom of the fourth when right fielder Anthony Lambert singled to center, scoring pinch-runner Jake Jozefowicz.
Neuqua (2-6, 1-2 UEC Valley) managed a pair of two-out singles off Wright (1-0) in the top of the fifth but couldn’t take advantage, and the Kansas State recruit held the Wildcats hitless in the final two innings.
The North Stars are enjoying an excellent start to the season.
“We had a down year last year, and I challenged these guys all offseason to come back out and let’s get back up to the top of the conference where we think we belong, and they’ve stepped up to the challenge,” Genke said. “We really got after it in the weightroom this fall and winter, and it’s made a huge difference just the way they’re swinging the bats.”