VALPARAISO | With a hearty south breeze roaring out toward Valparaiso's cozy left field, there was a premium on pitch location Saturday.
Times No. 4 Vikings senior Alex Bales was spot on with his command, striking out seven and getting nine outs via the ground ball in a five-hit shutout of No. 6 Griffith (3-2).
"I was just thinking about working downhill and letting my infield do the work," Bales said after the 7-0 victory. "I've got a lot of confidence in the guys behind me. All three pitches seemed to be working. My fastball and curve were hitting the spots well."
A hitting star in Friday's win over Munster, Bales exceeded last year's varsity innings (6 2/3) and matched his win total all in one outing.
"I asked him what he ate. Wheaties?" Valpo coach Dave Coyle said. Alex has worked very hard. He felt good and he wanted to keep going. Throw strikes. Make them put the ball in play. That's the name of the game. He felt comfortable with the strike zone right away. It was right where he wanted to throw it. He's come a long way."
Griffith pitchers, in turn, issued nine walks and hit three Vikings. Starter Brett Tauber lasted just 1 1/3, walking four. Valpo (2-0) took advantage of the wildness, posting threes in the first and second.
"What you saw was a clinic on how to pitch and how not to pitch," Panthers coach Brian Jennings said. "It was like starting an inning with guys on first and second. We haven't done a good job of throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters. You can't give up 12 free bases. (Bales) changed speeds, worked ahead in the count and worked quick. When you put it (at the knees) 17 times in a row, you're going to get 17 called strikes. He was making big pitches."
Sam Miller's bad-hop single over Kody Hoese scored two in the first after CJ Gear's RBI single. Tyler Ellrich doubled to the fence in left in the second, the only extra-base hit of the game, to highlight the second. Gear legged out a grounder to third to plate Valpo's other run in the fifth.
"The kids are seeing the ball well," Coyle said. "It's early, but everybody's excited right now."
Griffith only had two runners reach second base. Its best threat came in the first, when the first two hitters reached, but a double play took care of that.
With ace Devin Bafia suspended for half the season, the progress of pitchers like Bales will be pivotal for the Vikings.
"The more opportunities I get, the more opportunities guys like Tyler Ellrich and Drew Weston get, it's just going to make us a better team," Bales said. "I'm just trying to make the most of it. Hopefully, by the end of the year, our pitching staff will be five or six deep."