Sunset pitchers shut down Southridge

Long-familiar for their changeable abilities as all-league, slick-fielding infielders, Sunset's Kasey Porter and Jake Neeson are providing evidence that they can potently pitch too.

Going against the 2013 state semifinalist Southridge on Thursday in OIBA action, Porter and Neeson combined to throw a three-hitter in a 2-1, nine-inning win. The Apollo hurlers regally silenced the Skyhawks' bats, retiring a walloping 17 straight hitters stretching from the bottom of the fourth until the ninth, when Neeson got David Knudsen to pop up for the final out of the TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset shorstop Jake Neesons sacrifice fly in the ninth inning put the Apollos up 2-1 over Southridge.

Porter threw the first seven innings, and Neeson came on in relief in the eighth to close out the pitchers duel with Southridge's Knudsen and Matt Orcutt. Runs were scarce as both squads' pitchers were quick and economical. The innings went by so fast with both squads going down in order so often that Knudsen said it was easy to find a groove and stay loose.

“It's easier to pitch in a quicker game like that,” said Knudsen. “I could get a feel for my fastball and hit my spots. I felt good on the mound, my curveball was working, but I could've done better getting that first-pitch strike.”

But Southridge was the first to blink in the ninth as Sunset broke a 1-1 tie when Neeson clipped a sacrifice fly to right that scored Chris Snyder.

“We played them in a tournament last weekend and lost to them pretty badly, 10-4, and we came out and got a little revenge on 'em,” said TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset pitcher Kasey Porter threw seven solid innings against Southridge, only allowing one run and four hits.

Porter said the home plate umpire was generous with a low strike zone. The senior righty took advantage, wearing out the lower half of the dish and pelting it with sliders there over and over.

“My slider was working pretty well, overall my stuff was just on point,” said Porter. “My breaking ball was just working, and no disrespect to them, but they couldn't really hit it. I hit my spots and got lucky.”

Porter's played different roles for the Apollos this summer, sometimes starting, closing or throwing in long relief. He's pitching at a high level right now and looking like Sunset's potential ace next spring. Porter hopes that trend continues well beyond June and July.

“I think if I keep at it, I can be one of the best pitchers in the state,” said Porter. “Hopefully, I keep my fastball at the speed it is, maybe raise it a little bit and control my change-up.

“It makes you feel a lot better when they don't hit the ball hard. It gets your confidence up.”

Southridge could never shake Porter out of his settled rhythm and tempo. Porter earned the upper hand with first-pitch strikes and put the Skyhawks on their heels a bit for the rest of the count.

“When a guy's dealing like that, we have to attack him and jump on that first fastball” said Southridge third baseman Alex Beekman. “We fell behind in the count and couldn't catch up with his curveball, couldn't stay back on it. Those are things we can fix in the cages. We just have to put the work in.”by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge third baseman Alex Beekman turns an unassisted double play in the third inning of the Skyhawks 2-1 extra inning loss to Sunset.

In control

Neeson had a somewhat rocky outing against Forest Grove two weeks ago but the righty was in full control against Southridge, sitting down the six men he faced in order. Five of the outs Neeson provoked were fly balls as the Apollo defense corroborated with its closer's plan of pitching to contact.

“I was just doing my job, letting them hit the ball and let the defense do the job for me,” said Neeson. “We just have to be ready out there as a team, ready for every pitch, staying down and doing what we can do to get the job done.”

Playing four or five OIBA games a week has put the Apollos' young players on the fast track to upgrading Sunset's overall talent. Third baseman Scott Wright was “raking” the ball the last five games and almost blew the game open on Thursday with a smasher down the third baseline that was gloved by a diving Beekman. Second baseman Justin Silvy has formed a solid double-play tandem with Neeson up the middle and also catches behind the dish.

“A lot of the younger guys are actually playing better than the older guys right now, so that's a big help to our team,” said Neeson.

“I feel like our guys are kind of carrying the team right now. They've really proven themselves,” added Porter. “Once our older guys start getting in the groove like they did this spring, that'll really help a lot, and we'll start rolling over teams.”

Knudsen and Orcutt swapped scoreless stanzas with Porter and Neeson all afternoon long. Knudsen was the tough-luck loser but pitched productively over four innings, allowing just three hits. Orcutt started and threw three frames.

As a sophomore, Orcutt went along for Southridge's extended playoff ride, watching from the dugout as Reza Aleaziz, Jacob Zanon and Chandler Whitney, among others, took the Skyhawks to the brink of a state championship appearance. He and Knudsen said they are hankering to get back to the playoffs and finish the job.

“I'm one of the younger guys on the team, so I really have to play my role as a good pitcher and a good third baseman and do what I have to do to help the team,” said Orcutt. “I feel like if we play to our potential, we could potentially go to the championship and win. If we field and pitch like we did today, then just the hitting is left.”

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